The COVID-19 pandemic: In this together, a call for collective responsibility

On March 11 2020, following a 13-fold rise in COVID-19 cases outside China, the WHO declared the disease a pandemic. The novel coronavirus is now spreading in exponential proportions across the globe, crippling even some of the best healthcare systems. There are unprecedented events: there’s a sense of uncertainty, and for most of my generation, this is the “war” of our time. Times like these also call for a collective responsibility, for each of us to do our part. We are in this together, for the long haul. And I mean that in the most literal, least metaphorical way possible.

The epidemiology explained

An epidemiological study of the outbreak in China estimated the basic reproduction number (R0) of COVID-19 to be 2.68. 1 That essentially means that early on, every COVID-19 infected person can transmit the disease to an average of 2.5 others.

The epidemic doubling time of COVID-19 is 6.4 days.1 That means every 6-7 days, the number of cases increases by a factor of two. Exponential growthThis is the reason why the spread can be seemingly slow initially, only to lead to a sudden outbreak in a matter of days to weeks. It’s also why reducing transmission as early on in the outbreak as possible can dramatically reduce this exponential explosion of cases.

 Social distancing & “flattening the curve”

Social distancing is key to slowing down rates of transmission and might very well be the most responsible act in the face of this pandemic. This includes keeping a safe distance (at least six feet) between others, avoiding social gatherings, public transport, non-essential travel/ commutes and working from home, if one can. Needless to say, these measures must be accompanied by the consistent practice of healthy hygiene.

And it works: these simulation graphics by Harry Stevens of the Washington Post are a superb demonstration of the impact of social distancing on halting disease transmissions.2

The concept of “flattening the curve” alludes to reducing the number of cases over time by slowing the rate of transmission of the disease so that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed beyond capacity. COVID -19 can be fatal in anyone, with the elderly and those with comorbidities such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases at higher risk of severe infection.3 Latest reports from the WHO now emphasize that young people are not off the hook either, with data from countries showing that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization.4

The fundamental idea of social distancing is to reduce disease transmission to EVERYONE, not just oneself. The incentive is not just preventing oneself from catching it. Even seemingly healthy individuals might develop a milder or asymptomatic form of the disease, retaining the ability to transmit it to the elderly (the worst hit) and other vulnerable groups they encounter, including young people. This leads to a rapid growth of the pandemic, overwhelming the healthcare systems beyond their capacities. An overwhelmed health care system will not be able to treat all the COVID-19 cases coming its way, and will also be limited in resources to care for someone who has a heart attack, an accident or cancer.

However, turns out staying at home is easier said than done, with some still struggling to grasp the concept. “I’ll just be a while, what can happen?” they’ll say. At a time, where testing for COVID-19 is also rationed, staying away from large gatherings is ever so much more important, especially when one shows symptoms. In the fascinating case of Patient 31 of South Korea, we see the dangerous potential of a “super-spreader” phenomenon, in a 61-year-old woman who by virtue of attending religious gatherings prior to testing positive for COVID-19, transmitted the disease in large clusters, leading to a sudden surge of cases in South Korea.5

Sharing information: Responsible information, not misinformation

In a pandemic such as this, there’s also a tendency for rampant misinformation, easily transmitted through social media channels. This calls for the responsible dissemination of information, and while this is applicable to everyone, the onus is more so on healthcare personnel.

Social media can be used positively and responsibly to educate the public and refute myths: platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are proving to be a great way for healthcare personnel to reach out to communities, explain epidemiology and create awareness of healthy practices during this pandemic. The WHO website has also detailed some of the more common myth-busters: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

Keep updated

With the volatility of the situation and the torrent of information flooding in from multiple sources, it can be difficult to sift between what’s reliable and what isn’t. These are some reliable channels you can turn to for correct information and updates. It’s also important to seek out your local source of information depending on geographic location.

Show solidarity

Check on your elderly friends and relatives. Refrain from hoarding essential items, thereby potentially creating a shortage, making things difficult for senior citizens and those living on a daily wage.


The economy has taken a hit, but the hit on health care is bigger. With severe shortages of essential items, those of us with the capacity to donate locally, in whatever way we can, should be doing so. The WHO also has a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/donate

 Check on your colleagues

For healthcare personnel and their families, this can be a particularly overwhelming time. Some of us may not be on the frontlines, but have friends and family who are. Just those words, “on the frontlines”, sends a chill down my spine.

But that’s exactly what this is. War. War against a common enemy. And when you’re going to war, you don’t make light of the prep.

Which brings to mind this brilliantly appropriate quote by Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007:

 “Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate. This is the dilemma we face, but it should not stop us from doing what we can to prepare. We need to reach out to everyone with words that inform, but not inflame. We need to encourage everyone to prepare, but not panic.”

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. In this global healthcare crisis and the ultimate test of our times, it is on all of us to be responsible.


  1. Wu JT, Leung k, Leung GM. Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study. Lancet 2020; 395: 689–97
  2. Stevens H. Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”. The Washington Post March 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/?fbclid=IwAR1ALnyJWXEcBIIh1qFvz1a3JMCtAQP0_jvYIKIRqBnrKpjDKn-sEo1J39A
  3. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness? https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html
  4. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 20 March 2020. https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—20-march-2020
  5. The Korean Clusters. How coronavirus cases exploded in South Korean churches and hospitals. Via Reuters Graphics. Updated March 3, 2020. https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-SOUTHKOREA-CLUSTERS/0100B5G33SB/index.html

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Why Advocacy is Critical for the Future of Cardiovascular Research & Medicine

As researchers and physicians, many of us got in to our professions to push the scientific enterprise further to ultimately help others. We’ve all trained for an insane amount of years and collectively we work as a unit to uncover the intricacies of the cardiovascular system, develop therapeutics and treat patients. We traditionally think of ourselves as researchers or physicians first, but obviously we are all so much more than our jobs. We are also citizens within a really complex system that has been continually struggling to serve all of its citizens equally. It’s no secret that access to affordable health care is currently not equitable within our society. Similarly, there are also large diversity & inclusivity issues within our training institutions for both researchers and physicians.

However, something we don’t think about enough is that our intensive training and experience within these systems has also prepared us to be effective advocates for these issues. We have the opportunity to promote tangible change and some might argue it’s even our responsibility.

One of the things I really appreciate about being apart of the American Heart Association (AHA) is that this is something the organization doesn’t shy away from. During his presidential address at AHA Scientific Sessions 2018, Dr. Ivor Benjamin gave a heartfelt and determined talk about what the future of the AHA’s advocacy mission looks like. He discussed how supporting local and federal advocacy, early careers and mentoring is key to supporting the future of the AHA – but only 3% of cardiac professionals are African American men and this is something the AHA wants to help change. To help solve the diversity and inclusivity issues within the cardiac field, the AHA is expanding major undergraduate initiatives to fix the leaky pipeline. My favorite part of Dr. Benjamin’s talk was when he urged everyone at AHA18 to get involved in advocacy, not just for our field, but also for our communities. Because this is the key point: in order for our work to have meaning and to be effective, we need to ensure our communities are healthy. We also need to put value to advocacy efforts in our field – this is an essential part of our profession.

Well, this is all great, but how can you get involved? We are all insanely busy; I know adding advocacy efforts can seem daunting. Luckily for all of us, one of the focuses of the AHA for January is Advocacy. Since over 7 million Americans with cardiovascular disease are currently uninsured, advocating for the protection of the Affordable Care Act is something we can all do from our computers right now.

How can you help? (Provided by the AHA newsroom)



Looking for more ways to help on other issues?

  • The AHA has a great advocacy resource page for to get involved with efforts at the federal, state and community levels with issues regarding health care, tobacco prevention, and healthy lifestyles for kids.
  • Sign up here to become part of the AHA’s grassroots network, You’re the Cure, which is focused on advocating for heart-healthy and stroke-smart communities.
  • There are many great non-profits around the country focused on promoting science funding, literacy, inclusion, diversity & advocacy – finding the right one for you is key and many of them have already done the legwork by developing toolkits for you to get started in your community.
  • Interested in STEM outreach as a way to get involved in your community? The great Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Participating in local educational initiatives is one of the best ways to expose kids to what scientists and physicians actually look like (in addition to getting them excited about science). The STEM Ecosystem is a great way to get started; there are local chapters all over the country.

I recently watched the brilliant documentary (I highly recommend it!) about Mr. Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, where I was reminded of his advice many of us take comfort in during intense times.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers

We are the helpers. Its time we use our power to advocate for equity within our field and communities.