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“We’ve got to realize we’re in this entire thing together, and we’re going to be in this for years. Until people start behaving like it, more and more people are going to die from this disease.”

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Voices of the COVID-19 crisis

“We’ve got to realize we’re in this entire thing together, and we’re going to be in this for years. Until people start behaving like it, more and more people are going to die from this disease.”

3 Minute Read

Cedric Dark, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, spoke to TMC News on May 11, 2020, about the new “normal” and the importance of public health in good times and bad.

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The biggest problem we have with COVID-19 is that it can be transmitted asymptomatically by people. You don’t know who has it. You don’t know if you have it or not. When you’re out and about around people, you need to wear a mask so you don’t unwittingly spread it to somebody else.

My advice is the same thing Batman told John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises: ‘The mask is not for you; it’s to protect the people you care about.’

We’ve got to realize we’re in this entire thing together, and we’re going to be in this for years. Until people start behaving like it, more and more people are going to die from this disease.  Every time someone goes walking around town, enjoying life as they used to without making any kind of modifications, they’re potentially killing someone else down the road. Whether it is someone’s elderly parent, grandparent, a health care worker, that’s what happens when you have arrogant people doing things and setting poor examples for others.

This is the new normal. I’ve been saying that for a while now.  Our old ‘normal’ can’t function anymore until we get a vaccine. That’s going to take one to two years to happen, so we’re really talking 2022 before we get back to ‘normal’ life. By then, after two years of living like this, it’s not going to be normal. It’s going to feel different. 

At the hospital, the overall work will get close to normal. Patient volumes will pick up again, but COVID-19 is going to be in the background of all this for a long time. The idea that I can go on a shift without an N95 mask all day is pretty much done until we have a vaccine. I honestly think that every single ER doctor and ER nurse around this country is probably going to walk around with a mask on all day long for the foreseeable future because you can’t walk around and know who has the coronavirus and who doesn’t.

You might have people who are in the ER for something like an ankle sprain but have coronavirus with no symptoms and are passing it along. The next thing you know, you’re sick because you let your guard down.

Our most valuable resource in health care is our human resource. That’s one of the most important things we have to protect. Because once your doctors and nurses are dead, then what do you do?

With every public health emergency, ever, that’s all we do—we let our guard down. We get so used to everything that we forget what public health has done for us. People only notice public health during times like this. That’s the only time people pay attention to it, but the real work happens when nothing is going wrong.

This is why you have people in one administration create a pandemic office to address these kinds of threats, and then the next administration gets rid of it because they forget what is happening in the background.

How many times has your house caught on fire? Should we get rid of the fire department? It’s the exact same thing with public health. Just because your house doesn’t catch fire, doesn’t mean you don’t need the fire department. Just because you haven’t had to call the police for any reason, doesn’t mean you don’t need a police department. We need public health just as much as these other departments because we’re taking care of things ranging from water purity to mosquito-borne illnesses to human-borne illnesses being spread from person to person. That is not something that is easy to do.

Cedric Dark, M.D., MPH, as told to TMC News writer and columnist Shanley Pierce

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