Opinion: Central Valley Residents, We Must Act Now to Save Lives

The San Joaquin Valley. Photo credit: iStock.

By Lakshmi Dhanvanthari

The Central Valley—like all of California—is on the verge of a tsunami of COVID-19 cases. The virus is here, and it is spreading exponentially.

As chief medical officer of the largest public health plan in the Central Valley, serving 335,000 Medi-Cal patients, I am very worried about our vulnerable members. Many Central Valley residents have underlying chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, putting them at higher risk of experiencing serious consequences from COVID-19. Most of our patients are working families and children, seniors and those with disabilities.

Dr. Lakshmi Dhanvanthari

We have to act now to flatten the infection curve and save lives, including those of our health care professionals. This is particularly crucial in this part of California. In the Central Valley, we have been battling a severe, long-time shortage of doctors and nurses. To have so many of our health care colleagues, including medical students in training, endangered by this pandemic would be both a human and health tragedy.

We can be proud that California’s government leaders have moved proactively. We can rightly applaud most Californians for taking personal responsibility. But the message has not gotten through to everyone. The people who are not heeding the call to step up are putting all of us in danger.

Everyone has the social responsibility to be safe and keep others safe.  We can do this through physical distancing (staying at least 6 feet away) from non-immediate household members, frequent hand washing (of at least 20 seconds), and avoiding touching our nose, mouth and eyes.

This virus is different from others because it stays in respiratory droplets for hours. That is why it is extremely important to keep your nose and mouth covered when you cough and sneeze, and to stay at home if you are sick. The virus also lives on surfaces for a long time: on surfaces of copper and cardboard for a day; and on some other surfaces, such as stainless steel, for more than a day. This is another reason hand washing becomes extremely important, along with regularly cleaning surfaces.

It is best to act as if everyone is carrying the virus.

We must remember that people can be silent carriers. Others will have mild symptoms, or get hospitalized and maybe eventually succumb to the viral illness. But for all who are infected, this virus is shed from the respiratory passages for weeks and, in some cases, up to a month after one is infected.

This is why it is so important that we shelter in place and practice physical distancing. Seniors, along with those of all ages with chronic illnesses and lowered immunity, are particularly vulnerable to experiencing serious complications and death. To protect others and ourselves, we all must take the needed precautions.

With vaccines and treatments perhaps 18 months away, our first line of defense is the responsible behavior of every individual. We can do this!

Dr. Lakshmi Dhanvanthari, is the chief medical officer of the Health Plan of San Joaquin, a nonprofit Medi-Cal provider in the Central Valley.

COVID-19 Myths Exposed

From Dr. Lakshmi Dhanvanthari and the Health Plan of San Joaquin

COVID-19 Myth – Only the Old are in Danger

Think you’re young and can’t get COVID-19? Think again!

Younger people, such as many Millennials, are at risk of getting the infection. Recent reports show adults ages 20 to 44 are likely up to a third of U.S. pandemic patients. Many had to be hospitalized and a few needed to be on a ventilator (breathing machine). We can reduce the danger by acting now!

COVID-19 Myth – Hey, If I get it, I get it

Think again, because you have a choice.

It is not too late to stop the spread of this killer coronavirus. You may not get sick, but you can carry the virus and spread it to others, and they to others, and create a chain of spread. Some of them are likely to get very sick and may need to be in the hospital. A few may die. Don’t become ill and don’t be a carrier who infects other men and women of all ages. The right thing to do now for yourself and others is to practice physical distancing, lots of hand washing and staying home.

COVID-19 Myth – None of my friends have it and neither do I

Think again. Coronavirus is like other viruses. It can infect you, but not make you sick.

That’s how this super-villain used us humans to jet it around the world. We have only days left to slow it down and buy time. Time to save the lives of many, including doctors and nurses. Wash your hands. Stop the spread. Stay home. Stay 6-feet away. Stay Safe.

COVID-19 Myth – Only Others Can Save Us

Think you can’t make a difference in a global pandemic? Think again!

This started with one person. Now each person can do their part to save us all. Until there’s a cure, physical distancing is our most powerful weapon. Keep six feet between you and anyone who is not an immediate family member. If you absolutely must go out (for food, your meds or cleaning products) do it quickly and then kill the coronavirus with soap. Do not touch your face—it loves getting in your nose, eyes and throat. You are the hero we’ve been waiting for.

COVID-19 Myth – I’m not a doctor or nurse, I can’t do anything

Wrong—you can do a lot!

You can stop the spread by washing your hands. You can stay home and go out only if you must. If you go out keep at least six feet away from others. If you are sick you must stay home and try to quarantine yourself from others at home, and call your physician.

COVID-19 Myth – If I’m stuck at home, I’ll just be bored with nothing to do

Wrong—there are people who need you, right now!

Reach out to family and neighbors by phone or social media. This contact can be lifesaving for the elderly and Millennials who are even more isolated than you—and very afraid. If they live by themselves, they may be stressed and feel that they are in danger.

COVID-19 Myth – This is not my job. It’s up to doctors and nurses to save us

Wrong—they are on the front lines.

Too many are getting sick; many are dying—for us. From hospitals all over California and the U.S., doctors and nurses are pleading: We stay here for you. Please stay home for us. Do not spread this coronavirus. Stay home. Keep six feet from those not in your immediate family. Kill this invading virus with 20 seconds of hand washing—the virus hates soap.

COVID-19 Myth – It’s just a cold, my doctor doesn’t want to hear from me

Wrong—they just need to hear from you in the right way.

Call your doctor’s office and follow their instructions. You will help stop the spread, and you will help keep everyone in the office safe—including you.

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