By LaTonya Washington, MD

This year has certainly been one unlike any other in recent history.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  The world has seen coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS with pandemic potential in the past.  Due to robust global public health strategies, those viruses never resulted in mass casualties, however, the potential for a global pandemic this century was postulated.  Unfortunately, we are seeing this now with COVID-19.

We’ve learned so much about COVID-19 within the last 9 months and we continue to learn more and more each day.  The initial guidance was that masking should be reserved for medical professionals, however, health officials noted a significant decrease in the spread of infection with adequate masking (covering both the nose and the mouth) and social distancing of at least 6 feet prompting a change in the recommendations.  We’ve seen the outpouring of previously unavailable government and private sector funding for research and development of therapeutics resulting in multiple medications to assist with the treatment of COVID-19  infection and the recent FDA Emergency Use Authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine in record time.

Despite these developments, we continue to see people deny that this disease exists and has the potential to cause serious harm.  To date, we’ve lost almost 300,000 American lives to this disease with projections of another 100,000 American deaths by February 2021.  As a healthcare professional, seeing people die daily from COVID-19, I implore you to follow science and adhere to the recommended guidelines.  Please continue to appropriately wear masks that completely cover your nose and mouth when you leave home.  Continue to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between you and others not living in your household.  Continue to wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

While I am excited about the approval of the vaccine, please understand that it will not change much about how we live day to day within the next 12 to 24 months.  Due to my high risk for exposure, I plan to get the vaccine when it is offered to me, and I encourage you to consider taking the vaccine as well.  Based on the current data, it is highly effective in preventing severe COVID disease requiring hospitalization.  Fortunately, health professionals will receive the vaccine first.  I am hopeful that a robust public health education program and the fact that our fellow Americans see our sacrifices and responses to the vaccine will build confidence in the system.

My prayer is for each of us and our families to come out of this pandemic healthy and whole.  The sacrifices we make now of not having family holiday celebrations, not traveling, and limiting in-person interactions with friends and colleagues will pay off when we are able to gather together again.