By Matthew Barletta
No matter what you believe at this point, its clear people are hurting. We can all agree that’s a fact. People are scared and getting sick, some are even hospitalized.
More evidently at this point is the economic effect this is all having. So many people are losing their jobs. Families with young kids, elderly, recent college graduates; no group is left untouched. People are losing their livelihood in a time when household debt has never been higher and our safety bubble around is all but shattered.
I work as a primary care doctor. The health care industry is not exempt from this economic turmoil. Small offices all over the country are laying off staff as patients are told not to come in for their safety. Sources of revenue once considered guaranteed have all since evaporated. And like many small businesses, the cash reserves are not there to continue to pay their staff.
This month I have received numerous calls from patients with upper respiratory infection symptoms. The symptoms are often vague and nonspecific. As we switch to treating patients online and over the phone, my job is to figure out who is at risk of worsening and who needs more urgent care. Testing is hard to come by in Erie County.
The statistics about mortality rates and hospitalization are best guesses. What we do know though is that it is bad. The flu is bad, too. We’re just used to it. Is this worse than the flu? I don’t know. Some people will tell you they know, and only looking back in the coming years can validate them. Dealing with the flu and this every year, which is a possibility, is not something we want.
Some businesses and people in the area are not taking this seriously. Understanding that their jobs, careers and income are at risk, they continue to see patients, do nonessential procedures, offer nonessential services. I won’t pretend to know what anyone’s financial situation is that is causing them to do this.
I do know that our lives have all been shaken. That things have changed. And we're not sure when things will go back to normal. I do know that if we carelessly approach this situation, none of these changes will matter.
You don’t need to have symptoms to spread the coronavirus. Every interaction, every time you leave your house, it’s a risk that you will be exposed or expose someone else. It’s a risk you should ask yourself before deciding if its something you need to do.
Please take this seriously. Please ask yourself "Is the risk worth it?" every time you step out your door.
Matthew Barletta, MD, is a primary care physician in Amherst.