Ethically, what should we do now that Novel Coronavirus is here in the United States?

Most of my clients don’t realize that I have a Ph.D. in bioethics from Case Western Reserve University and an undergraduate degree in bioengineering from University of Pennsylvania. Prior to being a photographer I worked at PhRMA in Washington DC in the Scientific and Regulatory affairs department. I worked as a liaison between the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA on small molecule drugs, biologic drugs, and vaccines. Over 10 years ago I left the field for a vastly more enjoyable career in photography, but there are times when I feel I have an obligation to bring out my bioethics skillsets. Now is one of those times. People have been asking me what SHOULD we do, ethically, in light of COVID-19. You might ask, why is this an ethical decision? It is an ethical decision because the actions we take can have a very large impact on those who are at the greatest risk for dying from COVID-19, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Additionally stopping the spread is critical to not overwhelming our healthcare system. So how can you play your part? Here are my suggestions.

  • If you are allowed to WORK FROM HOME, DO IT!
  • If you are able to keep your children at home, do it.
  • If you are older (50+) or have any health problems, STAY HOME! You are the population most at risk and the population that is most critical that should self-isolate. The more people who end up in the hospital the worse the situation becomes for everyone. If you are in this vulnerable population do not take care of younger children that are in contact with other people that are not staying at home. They can be carriers of the virus without showing any noticeable symptoms and still get you sick.
  • If you can’t stay home due to work restrictions, try to practice social distancing as much as possible and wash your hands many times a day. If anyone around you is coughing, do your best to stay away from them. 6 feet or more is recommended.
  • If public assistance is not made available to bring food and supplies to those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, see what you can do about bringing food to them by leaving it on their doorstep for them.
  • Ideally schools and daycares would be kept open on a limited basis so that those who cannot stay home with their children, like health care workers and grocery workers, have a safe place to bring their children. If this is not possible hospitals or the government need to set up places for children to stay so that their parents can do their critical jobs. Schools that can provide classes online should do so.
  • Limit grocery store trips when you can. Go to the grocery store for larger trips, not just for a few things here or there every day. Grocery delivery is an option some places. The less we are in lines together the better.
  • If you are staying at home you can bring your children outside, like your own backyard, or large open areas, but avoid having them meet with other children and families. This defeats the purpose of self-isolation in homes.And of course, WASH YOUR HANDS! Practicing good hand hygiene is the most important thing you can do to help prevent the spread of this outside of social distancing. The virus can live for days on metal and plastic surfaces so things like door knobs and elevator buttons can be viral vectors and be sources of the virus. If washing your hands isn’t possible you can use hand sanitizer that is 60% or more alcohol as a stop gap until you can get to a sink and wash your hands.
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