How COVID Has Changed the World

The world we have inherited has blessed us with many things. Nature has created a harmonious order that has placed each of us to play an important role in working together.  However, plagues and natural calamities disrupt normal life, causing pain and suffering to all lives on earth.

Over the last a few decades, the world has faced several viral disease outbreaks including Hendra, Nipah, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Influenza (H1N1), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Zika and most recently coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the past, the economic and health impacts of the outbreaks were to a large extent, limited to certain affected areas only. The Covid Pandemic has impacted our health and well being, global economy and every aspect of human life.

It’s hard to overstate how much the U.S. coronavirus outbreak has deteriorated this past week, with each day ushering in new, disturbing records. Everyday there are more than 150,000 new infections. “This is the worst the pandemic has been,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan. Daily cases have gone up more than 70% nationwide, since the beginning of November. One in every 378 people in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week.

And its impact has been huge. The coronavirus pandemic disease has transformed lives in various ways… physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and psychological. I want to discuss the impact of COVID on all of us. I will like to break them down into some sub-categories.

The first is the Human Toll

As of November 16, 2020, of the 155 Million people affected by COVID across the world, as many as 11.3 Million are in the United States alone. Over 1.33 million people have lost their lives due to COVID around the world, while in the US, Covid has taken away as many as 247,000 lives. Across the country, more than 67,000 COVID-19 patients are now hospitalized.

Secondly, the Impact On Health

You all know the details of the effect of COVID on health.  Sadly, many patients in the US have delayed or cancelled essential healthcare due to fear of COVID, leading to as-yet undocumented morbidity and mortality from non-COVID diagnoses.  Fear has made some patients unwilling to step inside a physician’s office or hospital.  The downstream effect of COVID has yet to be realized.

Thirdly, the Impact On Mental Health

The psychosocial impact of COVID-19 as a specific global human disaster is well known.  In a the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Tracking Poll conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic wears on, ongoing public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation and job loss.  In the US, most state and local governments required closure of non-essential businesses and schools and declared mandatory stay-at-home orders for all but non-essential workers, which generally included prohibiting public gatherings, requiring quarantine for travelers, and encouraging social distancing.  Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, co-chair of President-Elect Biden’s Task force on Covid, has brought attention to the widespread experience of loneliness as a public health concern in itself, pointing to its association with reduced lifespan and greater risk of both mental and physical illnesses.  There is particular concern about substance abuse and suicide during this time.

Fourthly, the Economic Impact

The Brookings Institute reported that the COVID-19 crisis has had differential impacts among various racial and ethnic groups, putting some racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. Generally speaking, the United States experienced two consecutive quarters of decline in GDP, and recorded its steepest quarterly drop in economic output on record, a decrease of 9.1 percent, surpassing the previous record drop of 3 percent.  COVID-19–related job losses wiped out 113 straight months of job growth.  This pandemic has created a crisis for all workers, but especially minorities.

Fifthly, the Delivery of Health System

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the limitations of all countries in combating healthcare crises.  As the pandemic began, it quickly became apparent that public policy and current healthcare systems were ill-prepared to deal with the challenges of a pandemic.  The pandemic has exposed a vulnerability of scientific research and public policy.  Since the pandemic began, we have looked for innovative ways to mitigate and prevent the spread of virus. 

There are some particular examples to consider. 

The digital revolution has transformed many aspects of life. We need to understand and appreciate how digital technologies are being harnessed for the public-health response to COVID-19 worldwide. These technologies can be crucial to early and rapid case identification, so that cases can be isolated and to understand key risks and modes of transmission.

There has been increasing interest in decentralized, rapid diagnostic tests to widen access, and increase capacity. 

Another major impact of Covid and use of technology is through the widespread use of Tele health, which has come to be as a near normal practice recognized by physicians, patients, insurance companies and government agencies.

Conclusion

As physicians, we have been accustomed to caring for patients with critical illness.  Despite the complexities of diagnosis and management in clinical medicine, one of the most difficult yet rewarding aspects of the field is allaying fear and uncertainty during a time of great change and adaptation for patients.

In the midst of all of this, there is hope. Doctors and scientists have risen to the occasion. Nowhere is this more obvious than in vaccine research. Two vaccine candidates — one by Moderna, and the other a collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech — have reported over 90% efficacy.  It is a testament of human will power, dedication and seeking the common good of the whole world.  The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, one of the strongest physician organizations in the world, has shown superior leadership in the US by providing PPE to hospitals and nursing homes, instituting plasma treatment to COVID patients, and by providing healthcare to immigrants during this crisis.

It is nice to be reminded that in tough times there are still happy surprises, and that humanity is stronger than the disruptions or the perils that we encounter. We shall overcome all these hurdles and come out stronger and closer.

(Contributed by Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, President of AAPI)

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