Gene Kranz was the NASA Flight Director during the Gemini and Apollo space flights, including Apollo 11 (moon landing) and Apollo 13. He has written: “When bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options and failure was not one of them. We never panicked and we never gave up on finding a solution.”
2019-nCoV (coronavirus, COVID-19) will define this generation of health care providers. First identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and first appearing in the United States on January 19, 2020 (NEJM 2020;382:929). COVID-19 is a coronavirus similar to SARS and MERS. The U.S. Surgeon General and multiple endoscopy societies have recommended (strongly) that elective surgical and endoscopy procedures be deferred. Availability of testing has been slow, but many centers now have developed testing capabilities (including drive-through testing) with 6-hour result turnaround. We do not know the full pathophysiology, R0 (number of secondary cases attributed to an index infection), ease of community transmission, risk to providers, definition of people at high risk (for both acquisition and complications), and much key information n to base recommendations.
Health system and practice leaders do not yet have sufficient information to know which patients to defer, which patients should still be seen, visitor policies, how to segregate waiting rooms, or how to protect providers. Despite a lack of definitive knowledge, we must make critical decisions and know that recommendations can change hourly. As the Chief Clinical Officer at Michigan Medicine, I am spending 16 hours a day immersed in these decisions and find that one of my critical jobs is to keep people from panicking.
Schools, bars, restaurants, churches and other public gathering places are closing. Three countries (to date) have instituted complete quarantine. Digestive Disease Week® has been cancelled. We are entering a time in which normal life is altered and many changes will open up our thinking about long-term alternative processes.
COVID-19 will define this generation. The public will understand the real need for science, policies based on real facts, robust public health systems, and leaders who inspire confidence based on expert guidance. And, I believe we will see gastroenterologists, health systems, hospitals, and practices all showing us what our “finest hours” look like.
John I. Allen, MD, MBA, AGAF
Editor in Chief