Guest Column: COVID-19 will be part of our lives for some time to come

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Dr. Tom Oliver

I have been practicing medicine 28 years, and coronavirus is an altogether new experience for me. The biggest surprise for me is how rapidly my own opinions have changed. I have gone from, “COVID-19 won’t be that big of a deal here” to, “This is a VERY big deal” to, “This is a big deal (as are all infectious diseases that have the potential to kill), but apparently with a mortality rate somewhere around a bad flu season.”

As alarming reports continued to come in from places like Washington, San Francisco and New York, I was also in full agreement with stay-at-home orders and, in some cases, full lockdown. Data was sorely lacking here in the United States, and data from China appears to have been untrustworthy. Motives of these recommendations and orders have been questioned and politicized by many.

I will say that the state health officer leading the way for Alabama, Dr. Scott Harris, whom I know personally, is a man of integrity and has made recommendations solely with the best interests of Alabamians in mind. However, as data continues to grow, the many negative impacts of stay-at home orders, including those on small businesses as well as individual’s mental health, are being seen. I am grateful to see these orders being lifted and currently would not agree with them being put in place again.

I hope we have all learned a lot about some basic things we can do to protect ourselves from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and the flu and will continue to practice those going forward. I also trust that the citizens of Alabama can make informed, individual choices on whether or not to self-isolate at times based on their own individual risk factors. My heart goes out to those who have lost jobs, businesses that are struggling or gone under, and certainly those who have lost their lives because of this disease. I love this state, our country and the freedoms we are all afforded. I’m a big believer in individual responsibility.

More data will continue to accumulate. Some of it will be scary. I pray to see us move forward and make decisions that are not based in fear. I also pray to see us treat each other with respect and kindness, mask wearers and non-mask wearers, isolators and non-isolators alike. It has been enlightening to me the patience I have needed for myself as my own opinions change or evolve, as well as for those with opinions different from mine. I know I need more of that and I hope we will practice that with each other.

It appears COVID-19 will be part of our lives for some time to come. Going forward, I think our approach on how best to deal with it will need to be largely individual. Over the years, I have spent a large portion of my time trying to get patients to be more proactive in taking responsibility for their own health. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark example of an illness that requires all of us to do just that.

Dr. Tom Oliver is a physician and owner of the Urgent Care Center in Cullman.