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Geared Up for a Marathon

Thinking back to a year ago, when “COVID-19” didn’t yet exist, many of us were just back from summer vacation. At the time, we didn’t realize how much we would long for the days before masks and physical distancing became urgent imperatives, before every nonvirtual human interaction involved a careful calculation of spatial separation, air flow and wind patterns.

But here we are. We are tired of our “new normal,” but we know that we must continue to do our part, whether that means taking care of our patients or acting responsibly to reduce the risk to ourselves, our families and our communities. It’s impossible to predict the future, but right now, it appears that we have a ways to go in dealing with this pandemic.

Our models predict that the mid-Atlantic region will likely experience an increase of COVID-19 this fall, extending to January or perhaps into the spring. This potential surge will likely have several causes, including decreased physical distancing, the return of many businesses and social activities, and the start of school.

Thankfully, everyone at Johns Hopkins Medicine continues to do everything we can to care for patients and protect our employees and communities. I am enormously impressed with the consistent level of dedication and sacrifice. In recent months, we have focused on how we will maximize the utilization of our space and resources so we can continue to treat both patients with COVID-19 and those with other illnesses.

While we had a large decrease in nonurgent care at the beginning of the pandemic, our planning will ensure we can provide care for all who need it. We are hiring and training nurses, doctors and other providers to staff our COVID-19 units. And we are developing a “National Guard” approach, in which we train a range of Johns Hopkins clinical staff members to work with COVID-19 patients, in case we need to deploy them quickly. We are also continuing to ensure we have adequate supplies, including personal protective equipment.

The Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, a 250-bed facility operated by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center, remains open to treat non-ICU patients recovering from COVID-19. The site is also providing free tests (more than 1,000 a day) to anyone from Baltimore who wants one. I’ve seen this operation myself, and it’s an impressive feat of logistical engineering. The lines move quickly, and most people get their results within a few days, sometimes sooner.

We are also working with communities that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. One effort aims to test up to 150 people at a time in areas across Baltimore City where COVID-19 rates are particularly high. So far, we have done several testing events in largely Latino communities. We have also launched a program for Spanish-speaking patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The program has bilingual clinicians work with patients, care teams and families.

We also continue to plan — carefully — for reopening our offices. Research labs have started up again, under modified conditions that include increased physical distancing and staggered work hours. Over the past two months, we have been analyzing how we might begin a phased approach to returning at least some nonclinical employees to our offices. Of course, any changes will depend on the pandemic’s course in the Baltimore-Washington region, as well as in Florida.

Looking ahead, there remains a great deal of uncertainty in the course of this pandemic. Whether you work in health care or another field, please remember that your behavior makes an enormous difference. Wear a mask. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands. As much as possible, don’t congregate with others. If we all do these things, and do them consistently, we’ll slow the pandemic and ultimately save lives. And remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

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