I’m an ID Physician, and I Don’t Care if You Get COVID-19

Don’t get me wrong, I care when an individual patient comes in to the hospital with COVID-19. But when Infectious Diseases physicians and public health officials tell you not to gather for holidays or travel, we don’t care if you or your individual grandmother get sick. We care about the masses. We care about the sheer number of people getting sick.

The problem with you getting sick is that when ten of you get sick, in 1–2 weeks one of you ends up in a hospital somewhere. If 10,000 of you get sick then 1,000 of you come to a hospital. And that’s the problem: we are running out of room. We are running out of nurses and aides. Our housekeepers and dietary folks are exhausted working double shifts. We will soon have no more beds, no more oxygen machines. Some hospitals have already reached this point. Last week according to the CDC, there were over 165,000 cases. That translates into 16,500 hospitalizations in a week. And the next week, we’ll get another influx. It’s completely unsustainable.

If you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, I might think that’s foolish, but it’s ultimately your decision. It will only hurt you. But if you want to drive drunk, that’s a completely different scenario. Then you put yourself, me, the entire community at risk. That’s what public health officials are saying: it’s not about your individual freedom to visit with whomever you’d like. It’s about the community’s ability to stay healthy and, in the case of COVID-19, the community’s ability to have a functioning hospital for all those who seek care.

When we implore people to stay home, it’s not really about keeping your elderly father safe. It is, but more than that it’s about keeping a medical system afloat. So it’s not okay to say that it’s your choice to gather, that if you get sick it’s your decision and you’re ok with dying. Because ultimately 10% of you will be driven to the Emergency Department, needing a bed. And I would really like to make sure we have one when you get here.

Infectious Diseases physician via Georgetown University School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, writer.