Christine Nefcy


Experiencing this season along with a pandemic can feel similar to the timeless Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol.”

As you’ll recall from the holiday classic, Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts. So what would the Ghosts of Pandemic Past, Present and Future tell us about 2020? And what lessons would they share?

The Ghost of Pandemic Past would show us the fear and uncertainty in the early days of COVID-19 was matched only by the support from the community and heroic dedication of our frontline caregivers. We learned that changing the ways we operate as a community, social distancing, wearing a mask and spending time outdoors kept case numbers manageable. Even as a second wave hit in July, we were able to develop processes and protocols, stage resources and gather critical supplies to prepare for the months ahead.

Much like in Dickens’ story, the Ghost of Pandemic Present paints a more troubling picture. As we have become fatigued from the disease’s relentlessness and fall weather drove us indoors, numbers have risen across the nation, state and in our region. Munson Medical Center has seen more COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last four weeks and more deaths in the last six weeks than the previous eight months combined.

While our hospitals are not yet overwhelmed, the Ghost of Pandemic Future points a bony finger at what could be a difficult winter. But just as was the case with Scrooge, there is still time to help alter the course of the future. Wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing and limiting our gatherings can reduce the risk of infection, reduce the strain on our hospitals, protect the vulnerable and protect our healthcare workers who courageously serve patients on the frontlines every day, including the holidays.

COVID-19 is no bah humbug. It is very real. It is impacting the lives of millions of people and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths every day. We will need to remain vigilant for a while longer, but as we learned in “A Christmas Carol,” there is hope for brighter days ahead.

The safest way to herd immunity is through a vaccination program — and as I write this message, we may be just weeks away from receiving our first doses. Right now, Munson Healthcare is collaborating with the state and area health departments for a delivery model that likely will begin with protection for some health workers and other high-risk populations.

We don’t yet know how much vaccine northern Michigan will receive, but expect initially there will be a limited supply. However, as we get further into 2021, availability should grow, bringing with it increased immunity, reduced spread and eventually, relief from the stress and anxiety that has burdened us all for so long.

For now, we must embody the spirit of the season and think of others.

That might mean missing the physical presence of the ones we love this year so that we can be sure to enjoy the holidays with them for many years to come. But it doesn’t mean we can’t still have a meaningful holiday. As has been the case with so much in 2020, this holiday season is different, but it remains a time to reflect and be grateful.

We are so thankful for the businesses and community organizations and leaders who have come together to support our hospitals and our healthcare workers this year. We wish you and your family health, happiness and hope — now and in the New Year.

Dr. Christine Nefcy is chief medical officer of Munson Healthcare.

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