Illinois officials announced Monday the state now has more than 5,000 cases of COVID-19 spread across 52 counties, which includes 73 deaths. Governor JB Pritzker announced that before the end of the week, a field hospital being set up at McCormick Place would have at least 500 beds.
“Based on science, data, and the guidance of health experts, our approach to fighting this virus is two-pronged: suppress the spread and increase hospital capacity to meet the need,” said Pritzker. “A critical component of increasing our capacity is identifying and building out additional facilities across the state to support our existing hospitals and healthcare system.”
Last week the United States became the nation with the most cases of the virus. More than 155,700 COVID-19 cases had been reported as of Monday afternoon, with 2,810 deaths and 4,913 recoveries.
Navigating life during an unprecedented pandemic has proven difficult for many Americans, particularly when it comes to dealing with disinformation and misinformation about the disease. Learning the rules of social distancing has been difficult for some. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had to close the city’s lakefront and adjacent parks to the public last week after green space and pathways became flooded with people trying to get outside and exercise, but not being able to keep a safe amount of distance from one another. Lightfoot even released a video on social media about social distancing on Monday evening.
I don’t have much time to myself these days, but I felt I needed to make sure everyone knows how I feel about this Stay at Home Order. Which one motivates you the most to stay at home? #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/pDbCdySMQk
— Mayor Lightfoot #StayHomeSaveLives (@chicagosmayor) March 30, 2020
Listening to medical and science professionals is key during this crisis, which is why last week we had a wide-ranging conversation by phone with Dr. Daryl Wilson, a specialist in Emergency Medicine at Edwards Hospital Emergency Department in suburban Naperville.
The Danger of Bad Information
While scientists, doctors, and companies are racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19, there is currently no known cure. Despite this, there is no shortage of hucksters attempting to sell all forms of fake treatments or tests, with everything from pills to methods like blowing a hair dryer up your nose (DO NOT DO THAT). Wilson says that the danger in these is that unvetted, untested methods not only give people a false sense of security, but make the truth in general harder to discern.
“The concern is that you have a person crowing from the rooftops that they have a wonder drug or wonder cure, you have to be really cautious and back away and let the individuals using the scientific method come up with answers for you,” said Dr. Wilson. “Things are rapidly changing all the time and people of course when they have fear of the unknown, they have no control, people start clinging to anything that’s thrown at them. This is where these charlatans can really prey upon folks. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and that tends to ring true.”
Dr. Wilson added that TV punditry, exacerbated by echo chambers, can be dangerous in making it difficult to navigate fact from fiction.
“I think the real thing that’s happened unfortunately is that people’s ability to discern truth has become so clouded that when truth comes up and is staring them in the face they look at it with a side-eye and don’t know what to do,” said Dr. Wilson. “That makes it harder for individuals who are trying to convey truth, specifically people of science. Science has been so derided for such a long period of time it’s harder now to have credible people speak loudly and have that credibility heard. When you have pundits on these entertainment programs people watch for news and you have an individual who is a knowledgeable, accredited individual next to a person on a split screen – right there you have a problem where it puts these people on an equal footing.” (Balanced news doesn’t mean balancing fact against fiction.)
“We’ve unfortunately had this ingrained into our brains for such a long time and we’re so fatigued we just don’t know when someone is trying to give us an elixir of truth,” Dr. Wilson continued. “You have credible people in front of you speaking and suddenly they can be shot down by people who are not credible at all. Then that gets compiled by individuals living in their own echo chambers. It happens through all our groups.”
Social Distancing Is Paramount
Dr. Wilson said the number one thing people need to do is to continue social distancing, hand washing, and not touching your face.
“Ask yourself the questions before you go out—‘is it really necessary,’” he said. “I’m not talking about wants. Everybody wants something. Is it something you need that is a basic life need, like water or food? If your cellphone is a slower version do you really need that new phone right now? You don’t. Don’t try and go to that store that shouldn’t be open anyway because it’s not a necessity. It’s finding the things that are truly necessary.”
Wilson said that sick people should self-isolate at home, and anyone helping to care for them should keep a close eye on their own symptoms, and quarantine as well.
“Make sure [a sick person] is wearing a mask so they’re not getting anyone else sick,” he said. “If you’re asymptomatic at that point, the reality is that you don’t know what that individual has. Self monitor—if you have a cough, shortness of breath, fever—you’re definitely sick. The big thing is if you have been exposed and you’re asymptomatic you have to monitor yourself closely. If you don’t have to go someplace (if you’re not an essential first responder) you should quarantine as well. Be smart about it. If you’re exposed and you’re not sick, if you’re questioning whether or not you should be out exposing people, the answer is you shouldn’t.”
COVID-19 isn’t the Only Disease in Town
One of Dr. Wilson’s concerns is hospitals being impacted by large numbers of people coming in for care. Emergency rooms still need to treat things like car crashes, appendicitis, strokes, and any number of other life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Wilson said if you feel sick you should first call your doctor to consult them before simply walking into a hospital.
“Now our big thing is to keep what we call the ‘walking well’ out of the hospital,” he said. “If you’re not sick enough to go to the hospital, stay in your house. First, call your doctor and hopefully they can do a tele-assesment. If you’re not having life-threatening symptoms, like shortness of breath. When you’re just feeling cruddy, take your Tylenol. If your temperature comes down and you’re feeling achy, ride it out. That’s what we need you to do.”
“COVID-19 isn’t the only disease in town, we still have all the other things that have been happening as well and we have to deal with them,” he continued. “When we have a surge of patients requiring ventilator support and all that care, if we get them all at one time we’re gonna lose the ability to have any resources available.”
Become the Hero of Your Story
Since doctors, nurses, and other hospital and healthcare workers are on the front lines, we asked Dr. Wilson what people could do for them.
“People have to truly continue to social distance and realize if they’re not that sick they don’t need to come to the hospital. Make that call to your primary care physician before you show up on the doorstep. As long as they can keep the ER available for the emergencies, that’s going to help myself and colleagues out tremendously. People are really generous right now. People are sending food and trying to find ways to get us masks. If anyone knows where there’s some N95’s out there those will help. Send those to us. People who hoarded those masks, you’re not going to need them so please send them to us so we can be there to take care of you.
“Learn to be better to each other. Make my job an afterthought. I think the best thing people can do is truly realize we as a society, as humanity, have to battle against this and it’s not a battle you can win with guns. It’s a matter of being patient. The inconvenience you have for the time being of being stuck at home is gonna help tremendously to save people. Become your own hero. Become the hero of your story, of that other person’s story by listening to what we as healthcare providers and scientists are telling you. I know it’s difficult and economically people are suffering. Psychologically people are suffering. But we have to pull up our boots and realize we have to wade through this muck together. Everybody doing their part to stay home to watch out for their neighbor, their family, is gonna help us tremendously in the ER.”
I’ve known Dr. Wilson for a long time, but through another venue. Dr. Wilson is also the singer of the legendary Chicago punk rock band The Bollweevils. As we were wrapping up our conversation, he added one more thing that people could do for him. “If you could buy Bollweevils records too, later you can come see us play,” he said.
Stay home, wash your hands, listen to science, and take care of yourself and the people around you.