From the Dean: We’ll get through this together

It again has been a busy week, and again dominated by COVID-19 issues. But as I outlined in my comments last week, the activities of the School continue, albeit in very modified ways. Thanks to the internet, and the creativity and flexibility of our faculty and staff, the majority of our seniors from all programs who were scheduled to graduate in May are able to do so. For a minority of health sciences students, graduation will be delayed until they are able to complete some required clinical experiences.

But the COVID-19 challenge is ongoing, and it is important to remind folks that we are in a marathon, not a sprint. In that regard, Grand Forks Mayor Dr. Michael Brown, Grand Forks Public Health Officer Dr. Joel Walz and I penned an op-ed piece that was published yesterday in the Grand Forks Herald. The article appears under the banner “We’ll get through this, together.” You can access it on the Grand Forks Herald website here, but I thought I’d reprint the piece below:

We’ll get through this, together

As physicians who have been and continue to be on the front lines of health care, we have two critical messages for the community.

First and foremost, don’t let up on the physical distancing!

We now have positive cases of COVID-19 identified in our community. This is real. This is here. The messages you have been hearing about physical distancing should be crystal clear.

Physical distancing is critically important to everyone as individuals and the health of the community as a whole. This means staying home, avoiding crowds – even in or around your home beyond your immediate family – and washing your hands frequently (and did we mention staying home?).

Flattening the curve works when we commit to it and work together. The virus does not travel by itself. It travels when people travel.

Data and studies, including what we’re learning from cities around the world and from early studies coming out of cities like Seattle, show that proactive and aggressive policies and actions enforcing physical distancing works to slow the spread.

It gives our noble health care workers and public health professionals the time and resources to respond to our most vulnerable. These are the people who we work with and have worked with and are showing up every day to keep you safe and healthy. They show up. You stay home.

We have heard of incidents of people in our community not following the guidelines of physical distancing. That is unacceptable and, simply, not representative of who we are. Grand Forks residents don’t put their neighbors at risk. Our history, through floods, blizzards and summer storms, has proven we do quite the opposite, really.

Also please understand this is a marathon and we will be running it for months. President Trump recently expanded guidelines to the end of April. That is close to the minimum, in our opinion. We are in a new normal of physical distancing, so please prepare yourselves, your family, and your work for the next few months.

Our second message therefore relates to this physical distancing. It is to make sure to manage your own mental and physical health during this crisis.

You may have noted in our language that we are using the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” While you must practice physical distancing, it is important to keep up your mental wellbeing, social connections and physical health.

Reams of medical studies and decades of experience also show that social separation can have negative effects on mental well-being.

We know playing with the grandkids, socializing with friends and family and participating in festivities like graduation, concerts and hockey games fuel our happiness.

Take time and have family conversations around a plan for the following: Social Connection, Physical Health and Mental Wellness. Use this as a time to grow connections with those with whom you are isolating and as an opportunity to rediscover what matters most in your life.

Make sure to be aware of how you are doing and don’t be afraid to seek help from family, from professionals, or reputable online resources like those you can find at the Grand Forks Public Schools’ Mental Health Hub and at the Mental Health Matters website, www.gfcares.com.

Our community and region have been through tough times together before. We are in this together. We will get through this together. And if we do the right thing, put the health of the community first, we will emerge from this stronger as individuals, stronger as families and stronger as a community.

A letter with a similar theme is due to be published in the Fargo Forum. It is titled “Follow guidelines. Stay the course. Protect the community’s health.” Co-authors with me include Dr. Brown, Dr. Walz, Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney and Director of Fargo Cass Public Health Desi Fleming. I hope that you have a chance to read it too when it appears in the Forum. And special thanks to Pete Haga, community/government relations officer for the City of Grand Forks, and Gregg Schildberger, director of Communications & Governmental Affairs for the City of Fargo, for all their help with the two op-ed pieces.

Stay safe—and connected—out there!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Interim President and Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences