‘When you protect everybody you protect yourself’

A nurse practitioner’s perspective on COVID-19

By Cynthia Dalsing
Reader Contributor

I wanted to write this article when I heard that more than 400 health care workers have died from COVID-19. This struck me — these were my colleagues, the professionals who care for sick people the moment they hit the hospital door. They did not choose to risk their lives at their job. They just did their job. 

These were physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, medical workers and custodial staff; so many layers of people who take care of us, who most of us are unaware of. 01

While the number is more than 400 in the U.S., worldwide it is much greater. This is really sad. We need these professionals now more than ever.

As a nurse practitioner serving in this community for more than 20 years, I am alarmed at the division COVID-19 has caused. Before I retired, I did not ask my patients’ preferences before providing care. I did not base my care on religious or political affiliation, whether they smoked, wore a seat belt, or a helmet when biking; if they voted or not. As professionals we just provide the care that’s needed. 

The COVID-19 situation reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s book, The Sneetches. In it, a character comes to town with a new machine that puts a star on some sneetches’ bellies — but not all sneetches — so they can tell each other apart. 

It’s important to realize that all these sneetches looked the same until they got a star. 

When they first got their stars they felt pretty special — above the other sneetches. With their new adornment, the sneetches also made assumptions about other sneetches. None of these situations played out well. Everyone wanted a star, of course, and there was also a machine to take the stars off their bellies, if they so desired. 

Everything turned into chaos when they couldn’t tell each other apart; some without stars, some with several. Suddenly they realized they are more alike than different.

Our community has been mostly unscathed by this virus, but the numbers are rising. We don’t know exactly what will happen because this is a new virus. Because we can have COVID-19 without any symptoms, it is a perfect storm for transmission. 

Now the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are more important than ever, because they are based on what we know to be effective. 

The three “W’s” are the easiest guide: 1. wear a mask; 2. wash your hands; 3. watch your distance. 

If 95% of people would wear face masks, we could save more than 30,000 lives. An unprotected cough will travel about eight feet. A two-layer stitched mask reduces this distance traveled to 2.5 inches. If 80% of people wear face masks, spread will reduce as if we were in strict lockdown. This is big.

Let’s remember all the people in our community who must work to keep our town running and their families cared for — the people in the grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, police, bank employees. This list is long and incomplete. If we protect them we also protect vulnerable people who can’t stay home all the time but must go out for groceries, prescriptions or to see their nurse practitioners. 

When you protect everybody you protect yourself. 

Because the nurse practitioner community cares about all of us, we will be distributing masks and hand sanitizer to businesses. We all need to take care of each other. We don’t need to label some people with or without stars.

Here’s what you can do: wear a mask, wash your hands or use sanitizer, and stay six feet away from other people. It makes me feel safer. 

Until we can test everyone to determine who is really carrying the virus and until we have a vaccination we can keep our community safe and open. Anger triggers anger and judgment, it’s not helpful. There are really only two groups of people, those who have had COVID-19 and those who will get it. We can do this for our community. Read the book!


Cynthia Dalsing, MSN/ARNP, serves as District 1 representative of the Nurse Practitioners of Idaho.

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