Dear South Carolina,
Please stay home!
I am a small-town family doctor who owns his own practice. I don’t have a hospital administrator to muzzle me and I don’t work for the government. Take what I say for what it’s worth, which may not be that much, but I’ll be honest with you. I’m a publicly educated South Carolinian and I embrace my opportunity to be here now to make a difference. Please join me.
Also, this is personal for me. I am not socially distant from my patients in their time of need some of whom have already tested positive. Quickly, this may get personal for you, too.
COVID-19, the disease, is DEVOURING New York City. Everywhere it goes, however, it becomes a LOCAL problem. In South Carolina, we need to know where we stand. You need to know where YOUR town or community stands.
We do have reasons we can be optimistic. A little more than 2 weeks ago, everything started to change in our lives. We know that this virus can spread at an exponential rate quickly surging in a community. Timing is critical. Acting early saves lives. Waiting can be devastating. The likely fact is that the presence of the coronavirus in our state was relatively less than other areas of the country.
If true, what that may mean is that our response may be able to have a more robust impact in stopping the spread of the virus before it can ravage our communities and overwhelm our health care system. That may be wishful thinking, but if it could be true, we will have to make it so by doing our part, each and every one of us.
NOW is the time where we could have hoped to see the impact of our efforts at “Social Distancing” start to show up. But we have a data problem.
At first, we didn’t have enough tests. Now, all of the sudden, we’ve run out of the chemicals required to process the tests, YOUR tests. Thursday, for the first time, DHEC gave specifics about this problem sharing that they had over 1600 tests backlogged waiting to be processed. Some private labs are dramatically worse taking up to 10 days to report. Timely results are absolutely imperative to know with confidence where we stand.
So, for now, we wait.
Uncertainty has ruled the day. What, when, where, who, how? These have been the questions about the disease, our response, and of the unintended consequences on jobs, family, and our economy. When you know enough to run, but not much else, you MUST make decisions to avoid being ruined.
What is the worst case? Death, system and economic collapse. However, TIME (answering our questions and gathering data) moves us towards CERTAINTY. Decisions you make when properly informed are of a whole different sort. They allow for precision that can be tailormade to a state, a community, a person. Decisions that can both protect the health of our community and unleash the economy. Good data lets South Carolina operate independently from New York.
Better and faster testing may be coming, but it hasn’t yet. Until we have timely testing that is more broadly available, we won’t have confidence in where we stand. I am eager to know like you are. I have patients who have been laid off and others whose gigs have been canceled. I have patients who, as small business owners, have sat in tears forced to do the laying off because overnight business vanished.
So, what is it we are looking for in the “data”? We are waiting for the day that the number of new cases each day is consistently less than the day before, LOCALLY, not just in our state but in your zip code. That “inflection point” will be a time for new action.
We should be thinking about what that looks like so we will know it when we see it. This is not premature. It’s called preparing for “what ifs”, something we clearly need to get better at. So, start thinking about that. At some point, we may tell patients at lower risk for critical disease to move more freely while, at the same time, asking higher risk patients to simply stay home.
There are many questions to consider as we contemplate a potential unwind whenever that time does come. If we wait for everything to be perfect, we will likely have waited too long.
Unquestionably we won’t be ready to transition until all health care workers have adequate personal protective equipment, until hospitals have confidence in their capacity, until we have plenty of medicine available if proven helpful to treat the virus like possibly hydroxychloroquine, and we MUST have widely available and timely testing so that we can monitor ourselves and we can continue to have confidence that we will keep moving forward and not slipping backwards.
Unfortunately, we are still dealing with a great deal of uncertainty and lack of supplies. However, if we do our job as citizens to stop the spread of new disease, then our relief will come sooner. This has been a very stressful time. I didn’t realize how much until I became emotional telling a friend about my youngest son who is worried about his dad on the front lines facing this disease head on.
We can do this. As South Carolinians, our motto is Dum Spiro Spero – While I breathe, I hope. How appropriate that is at this time. Do your part. Let this be a shining moment for us as South Carolinians as we love our neighbors and support those on the front lines. I’ll be praying for you, our state, our nation, and our world.
God bless you and thank you for everything you are doing.
Dr. Ted Swann is a DPC family medicine doctor in Clemson, South Carolina, where he has practiced for 15 years. He is a graduate of Clemson University and received his medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine. He recently partnered with Palmetto Promise Institute on the Statehouse release of our Healthcare Freedom Agenda and is a 2020 Liberty Fellow.