Leon Kraybill

Leon Kraybill

Dear America:

It’s time for a heart-to-heart conversation, an honest discussion with the doctor, a realistic warts-and-all look at our health and how we influence that well-being.

Frankly, our health has not been so good recently.

We had an early warning round of COVID-19 fever and cough. We quarantined, bravely suffered through the chills, endured the achiness, and hoped the fatigue would fade. We popped acetaminophen, drank tea and watched too many movies.

And indeed, we started to feel better. Fewer people were getting sick and deaths decreased. Finally, thankfully, we were recovering.

Yes, yes, the infection was still here. But we didn’t know anyone who got really sick. Only the old people died, and weren’t they sick to begin with? It was someone else’s grandma who died. And really, most children and young adults probably will get over it easily.

Yes, yes, they say there are ways to decrease the spread. But the precautions are miserable, and hot, and make you feel like you can’t take a breath. We miss our friends, and most of them aren’t taking precautions anyway. Plus, we don’t feel sick, and none of our co-workers have been ill.

And this quarantine has had big consequences on businesses, jobs, people and paychecks. We didn’t really have any choice but to reopen, right?

So, like a debilitated patient fresh out of a three-week pneumonia hospital stay, or a weakened athlete after six weeks in a cast for a broken leg, we wanted to charge back into life at full speed. Forget the antibiotics, the inhalers, the limited activities. Forget the splint, the limited weight-bearing, the therapy. Back to work, gym, restaurants, worship and gatherings with friends.

However, just as the body does not take kindly to excess stress after illness, our country’s health has not fared well with the pell-mell resumption of life. COVID-19 infections are surging, often in places not previously hard hit. Deaths are again rising. Cases in children are appearing. The specter of new restrictions hovers and becomes reality.

We all suffer the loss. There is no joy in those who predicted a resurgence. There is heartbreak for those who yearned for normalcy. There is suffering for those newly ill. And there is fear in the hearts of medical providers who attempted to manage this disease in March.

It will help no one to argue, cast blame or dwell in the past. Failed scientific experiments are common and necessary. They should teach us how to respond differently and look for an alternate approach. Repeating the same experiment won’t change the outcome. Only accepting and learning from past failure allows us to find new and better solutions.

But, Lancaster County COVID-19 infections never got as bad as predicted. And we’ve opened up without a local surge of new cases. New York has not relapsed — maybe we will be OK too.

Maybe so, but look around the country — 32 states with increased cases; 15 states with increased deaths; six consecutive days of new Florida cases of over 10,000 per day; and Tuesday, the U.S. saw more than 1,000 deaths in a single day for the first time since early June.

Like the relative who smoked for 50 years until cancer set in, we can learn from the experience of others and choose different actions.

If we, the people of Lancaster County and southeastern Pennsylvania, do not look honestly at our health, accept our prognosis and make moderately onerous lifestyle choices, we risk the health of our bodies, our community and our economy.

A Lancaster County surge is not a foregone conclusion. The choices each of us makes will determine much of what happens to our community. A full-scale quarantine is likely not practical or necessary. But some restrictions of the quarantine are now known to significantly decrease the chance of infection.

There is a continuum from safe behavior to very risky actions. Each of us makes multiple choices every day that influence our risk. The question should not be whether a single behavior is “safe,” but whether all of our actions every day are as safe as reasonably possible.

COVID-19 is an infection that operates on scientific principles and will wreak its havoc regardless of the side of the aisle where you sit. A surging COVID-19 epidemic does not give freedom to anyone. We potentially lose the freedom to leave home without restrictions, go to the store, return to school and hug our loved ones.

I call upon the practical and wise people of Lancaster County to do the right thing for our health. To value our well-being, to honor our neighbors, to respect our differences, and to make choices for the good of all. Accept and follow the proven benefits of masks and physical distancing. Choose the safest options every moment of every day. Encourage others to make wise choices and cheer them on.

I believe this health crisis will eventually fade. Let’s remember it for how we made good choices and took care of our community.

Dr. Leon Kraybill is the chief of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s geriatric division and post-acute care, and medical director at Luther Acres in Lititz.