The global IT outage related to cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike has impacted some UVM Health Network systems. Emergency departments are open, and anyone experiencing an emergency should seek care at the hospital. Learn more.

COVID-19: Hitting Close to Home

What we do now determines if our hospitals will get overwhelmed

Wouter Rietsema, MD, Vice President Population Health and Information Services, AHMC & CVPH

As COVID-19 cases surge in our region, many people are worrying about where they might contract the virus. In reality, you may only need to go as far as your own home.

For most of us, our guard is up once we leave our home. We are on high alert, taking many precautions to reduce the risk of getting sick.

Yet, the number of positive COVID-19 tests in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties is rising at a troublesome rate. As of Thursday, December 17 in Clinton County alone, the seven-day rolling average of test positivity was 3.6 percent and there were 132 active cases. Simply put, infections are on the rise and we are in the middle of another wave.

If we are so vigilant when we leave home, how is this opportunistic virus spreading now? The CDC points to small gatherings in our homes with people who do not live with us.

Home is where we let our guard down. That tendency to relax includes the circle of people we care about and trust: our family, friends, neighbors and even co-workers.

We have an inherent bias to think that these people could not possibly be infected.

“They are careful. They would not possibly put us at risk. There is no chance that they are infected,” is what we tell ourselves as we let them into our home, without a mask, maybe even giving each other a hug or a handshake. We do not worry about staying six feet apart. It is an understandable sentiment, given the trust we have and the reasonable belief that the people we let into our home will never intentionally harm us.

Remember with each person you let into your home, you’re not just associating with that friend, loved one, neighbor or colleague. You’re associating with every single person that individual has also been around.

And, that is one of the critical problems with this virus. It does not care about who we “trust” to do the right thing.

COVID-19 does not care about the effort we put in when we leave our home.

It does not matter to the virus if it manages to slip through and infect someone who was doing everything possible to lower the risk of getting sick.

While you might turn out just fine, maybe even avoid symptoms altogether, others will not be so lucky. That is the beginning of the domino effect.

As more of us get sick, more of us will need to be cared for at the hospital. Beds will quickly fill up. Our health care system suddenly becomes overwhelmed, and as we struggle to keep up, it becomes difficult to provide the care every patient needs, even those who are not sick with the virus.

There are surge plans in place designed to handle a dramatic rise in cases, but these are plans no one wants to see enacted.

Our community as a whole will suffer if we let COVID-19 rage out of control and wait for vaccines to save us.

Fortunately, every one of us has the power to turn this around and stop the dominoes from falling.

Keep your guard up, even at home. That means limiting any gatherings inside your home to the people you live with. Wear a face mask, keep your distance and wash your hands when you are around anyone from outside your home. Consider virtual visits instead of in person gatherings.

We are all feeling that pandemic fatigue, and with the holiday season here, it is harder than ever for each one of us. We’ve come too far to give up and give away all of our hard work from the spring and the summer. Now is the time to dig in and fight this virus the way we know how to.

This will not go on forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are here and will be our way out of this. But they are still months away for many of us, and they will not cure you if you get sick. What you do now – and once those vaccines are widely available – will determine how soon we can get back to normal and when we can be together again.