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Our Finest Hour?

The other night I listened to the presidential address about the nation’s preparation and response to COVID-19 hoping to hear a message of calm, of honesty and of resolve. Although the information was informative on a certain level, I was hoping for more. While travel restrictions can help limit certain disease effects and processes, the message from leadership provided an opportunity to call upon our collective strength, cooperation and societal responsibility. It is going to take all three to minimize the potential lethal impact on our fellow Americans, but we are capable of it.

This is the moment for a generation.

Every generation has one. The American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2, the Great Depression, 9/11; each defined a generation and provided dire context to the privilege and luxury we generally enjoy in our lives. On the plus side, certain steps taken by non-governmental organizations; the NBA, the NCAA, churches and synagogues, conference holders, and more have shown us wonderful examples of how to act significantly and responsibly. This is important. It is important to note what we are doing correctly, and keep that in mind as we also acknowledge the potential severity of what is coming.

“It is going to get worse.”

Many of us will be infected. It is rather ridiculous at this point to deny that. This is a highly contagious and new pathogen. Our bodies do not know it immunologically. It is not “like the flu” and it is unprecedented in our lifetime. What we do know, is that it can be spread unknowingly, it can have devastating effects both on the old and on the young who have certain medical conditions, and that it is particularly hard on the elderly. What we are now talking about is protecting each other – by being informed, and by acting intelligently and responsibility. This process will be marked by tragedy, by incidents of heroism both overt and quiet, and ultimately, by survival.

“In the millions”

In a testimony before the Congressional Oversight Committee Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, described the range of impact in terms of death – should we fail to comprehensively act – as potentially in the millions. This is not hyperbole. It is not a shock disclosure. This is reasonable advice and admonition. In a recently disclosed presentation by a University of Nebraska health expert about the mortality assessment based on the population numbers drawn from the census, and supported by information available in the Profile of Older Americans the current hospital system cannot support the rapid influx of critically ill, which will happen if society does not act intelligently and responsibly.

The crisis is temporary.

"Temporary”, by all considerations, is a relative term. We need to limit spread as much as possible until a definitive treatment is developed. Developing a therapeutic is not a terribly long range goal, though it will take several months. Vaccine is ultimately the solution, but that is a year and a half away, at best. In the mean time we, all of us, need to be uncharacteristically self-less and thoughtful. If we do it well, we will weather this and protect loved ones and the loved ones of people we will never even know. If we fail – and we will be to blame – then those people will suffer and die. It’s up to us.

We are tougher than we seem.

For a very long time, we as a society have avoided stress. We’ve decried it, shielded from it and focused on the negative aspects of it as though it was the root of all ill. However, it is worth noting that no great accomplishment is ever achieved without a heavy dose of struggle and stress. Excellence without ardor and impediment is unheard of. The greatest historical accomplishments came out of some of the darkest hours. It is often when things appear most daunting, that we summon our strength of spirit and act. This could be such a moment. In fact, this may well be this generation’s finest hour.

Reprinted with permission

Matthew Minson, MD is a physician and has served as a senior health official at the local, state and federal level. He is the author of a series of books championing individual health and social advocacy published by Texas A&M University press and has been a contributor to C-Span, NPR, and PBS. His website is


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