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'Respect everyone, Fear no one' Ackerman advises

by Mark Ackerman, PA-C, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics

As a former college basketball coach, I sometimes like to approach issues from a sports strategy perspective. On one team that I coached we had a saying that we repeated before every game; "Respect everyone, fear no one." The concept is simple. It basically reminds us that if we don't give our opponent enough respect, that if we look past them, they can beat us. At the same time, if we give them too much respect and don't believe in ourselves, we can also get beat.

When it comes to COVID-19, I think the same mantra holds true. We have to respect the virus and what it can do, but at the same time, we can't afford to cower in fear of it. Approaching this thing from either extreme position could get us into trouble. And before we define those troubles, I think it is a good thing to remind us all of an important difference between sports and viruses. That difference is that our opponent here is a virus and not a person. Remembering that our enemy is the virus and not each other is important when we form our strategy and our approach to defeating it.

It is good to remember that this virus consists of billions of tiny particles that we can't see, taste or smell. So, part of the problem here is that we are fighting a ubiquitous entity that attacks us when we don't even know it. That means a lot when it comes to forming our strategy. What it means is that we have to, for the most part, take a defensive stance. It means we have to mitigate our risk of being attacked.

So how do we do that? Well this sounds a little counterintuitive but I think the first thing we have to do is to refrain from immediately putting on all of our protective gear. The first thing we have to do is form a team. Why? Because the first risk you have to mitigate is the risk of beating yourself. It is this very lack of a team concept that gets us confused between defending ourselves from a virus and looking at other people to blame as if they are the virus. And while I understand that this analogy breaks down a little if you consider yourself an individual sport competitor, it should also be stated that even individual athletes have teams- every NASCAR driver has a pit crew etc.

So please excuse my philosophical ranting here but I do want to mention the four cornerstones of becoming a team in the truest sense of the word. I think it is important for our community to act like a team in this truest sense. So, here are the four basic principles of being a team:

1. The first principle is that we treat each other, each team member, with a certain respect. How much more important is it for us to respect our own teammates before we respect our opponent?
2. Secondly, great teams approach situations recognizing that we need to be working for the common good, not looking to push individual agendas like being the high scorer. Since we are living in a community, we need to be on the same team and that means working for the same goals.
3. Thirdly, knowing that if we are all working towards the good of each other and towards a common goal, we need to have a sense of responsibility to each other. We have to have each other's back! Even if your role on the team seems minimal, take pride in playing that role well.
4. Finally, we need to have shared decision making. Great teams do not have one leader who is calling all the shots. Great teams have what we call, in the sports world, collectivity. That is, we have collective leadership, collective toughness, collective discipline. If you only have one person on a team who has toughness, one person who is a leader, one person who has discipline, then you really don't have a team at all. You only have individuals who are trying to do the right thing in the midst of chaos.

So putting all the analogies aside, let's get to the point. These are the risks we must mitigate.

The harms of disrespecting the virus (not taking it seriously):

1. People die- especially the older and more frail people in the community.
2. Even if you don't die, there is a chance you can have long term troubles and symptoms from the virus. Persistent shortness of breath for example can keep you from your favorite activities like hiking and hunting in the mountains for a long time. In addition, there can be cardiac and neurological problems that can complicate your health.
3. Further lock-downs. It is estimated that sheltering in place prevented an estimated 10 times the number of cases that we initially had in the first three months of the virus. With all measures taken, we may have avoided 35 times the number of cases. So, while it may work, let's not go back to that!
4. Cancelation of many of our activities through closures. The more the virus spreads and infects people, the less opportunity there is to travel, go to (and participate in) sports, theatres, restaurants, concerts etc.

The harms of fearing the virus (locking ourselves away in hiding):

1. For every 1 percent increase in unemployment, there is a 1-1.6 percent increase in suicide rate and a 3.3 percent increase in drug overdose deaths. Physical and social isolation each have an increase in mortality of over 30 percent compared to age and gender matched controls who are not isolated and lonely. So, reaching for a lock-down to solve our problems may help control the virus, it won't protect us from other problems.
2. For every 1 percent increase in unemployment, there is a 35 percent increase in heart attacks. When less people go see their doctors for fear of catching COVID-19, many other diseases can cause problems as well.
3. Economic instability. It is far better to keep the community working and supporting our local business so we don't fall into further problems related to unemployment.
4. Lack of supplies. There is already a major shortage of important items like lumber and car parts. In some places there is a major food shortage.
5. Increase in domestic violence. This happened during the initial lockdowns and is sure to increase with more lockdowns.

So, what should be our strategy? While mandated lockdowns and closures can control the spread of the virus, they have unintended consequences that in some cases may be worse than the disease. This includes dividing communities and seeing each other as the enemy rather than seeing the virus as the enemy. On the other hand, if we open everything up and don't respect the virus, it will simply spread more and larger lockdowns/closures will become necessary.

My suggestion is this. Mitigate the risk as a community. If we take the team approach then we can combat this virus on our terms. But to do that we need to respect each other, strive for the common good, be responsible for protecting each other and have a collective mindset in all these things. The mitigating actions then become:

1. Respecting the virus by donning our protective gear; wearing a mask when around others, washing your hands before and after touching each other (or common objects), and staying home when you are sick.
2. Not fearing the virus by going to the grocery store and the restaurant, going to school and work, to church and to social events.

The bottom line: Respect the virus, don't fear the virus, become a great team, and don't beat ourselves!

Photo: Mark Ackerman, PA-C, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics

Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544
Phone: (208) 476-0733
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