Back in early March, I had a business-related trip to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. My itinerary included a few days in Washington State. Like nearly everyone else in the world, I closely followed the spread and response to COVID-19. The news broke on Day 1 of my trip that the first US deaths occurred...in my general vicinity. My plans did not change, but the news inspired me to wash my hands more often, use hand sanitizer frequently, and avoid touching my face.
What did change dramatically was the behavior of people. New social norms emerged overnight. An elbow bump quickly replaced a handshake. Passengers on the airplane carefully cleaned their surroundings with germicidal wipes. Surgical masks appeared in public. With the high demand, the price of a single surgical mask skyrocketed from under a dollar to $7.99 each at the airport. Alcohol gel flew off store shelves and became a scarce commodity; people started sharing homemade formulas. Airline seats opened up on my trip home as conferences and events all over the globe were canceled and real fear of contagion arose.
What amazes me most is that years of public service announcements and educational efforts on preventing the spread of seasonal flu had little impact on societal behavior. But even before the mandated closures and restrictions imposed by official decrees, COVID-19 commanded the public's rapt attention and action in record time. No doubt the intense news coverage and “viral” social media posts accomplished what we could not in other disease outbreaks.
Beyond the crisis and tragedy that COVID-19 has wrought on humanity, I remain optimistic that positive outcomes will ultimately emerge and be sustained. First, keeping up proper hand hygiene alone can prevent transmissible diseases and save lives the world over. Second, quarantining people in their homes could permanently drive the expansion of telehealth systems and help overcome existing regulatory and technologic barriers. Third, any missteps or errors made in the various aspects of this response will no doubt provide valuable lessons learned to help us manage infectious disease outbreaks more effectively going forward.
Public health has always been the domain of nurses. Now more than ever, during Nurses Week in this true Year of the Nurse and beyond, thank you for your unwavering courage, expert care, and dedication to your patients. You are consummate heroes on the frontlines of crisis across the globe!
Happy Nurses Week,
LINDA LASKOWSKI-JONES, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, NEA-BC, FAWM, FAAN