A 'return to normal' will reverse our progress
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Across the country, people are asking, “When can life go back to normal?” Even as states re-open, the answer is, “Not yet.” At least, not without risking tens of thousands more lives.

I lead an organization representing nearly 40,000 emergency physicians from across the country. We are not easily shaken by what we see at work—but this virus is different, posing a challenge we have never faced and do not fully understand. The past two months have been some of the most difficult of our lives, and for the first time in my three decades as an emergency room physician, I am shaken to my core by what I have seen.

Emergency physicians across the country are seeing patients struggle to breathe. We are diagnosing otherwise-healthy people with an illness that may end their lives. Many of our elderly patients are forced to lay alone in their final moments. We still do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE), and many are falling ill as they care for others. We continue to struggle with the physical and emotional stress of fighting the war against COVID-19 daily. I have not seen my children for months.

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We desperately want life to return to normal, too. Emergency physicians understand the severity of this virus and recognize the value of swift action, but rushing back into our routines will reverse the progress we have made together over the past two months.

Like a boxer in round two of a 12-round fight, we cannot let down our guard now.

Make no mistake: the re-opening of the economy does not mean the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Confirmed cases and deaths are still rising. Just last week, Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump hits Biden and Obama in defense of his golfing Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' Top New Mexico tourism official says mass gatherings may not be possible for 18 months MORE, a key member of the White House COVID-19 Task force, warned senators that reopening prematurely, without the capability to respond effectively and efficiently, will “trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” The U.S. is already struggling with 20,000 infections a day, and the tragedies will increase as states relax their stay-at-home guidelines.

Fauci’s caution confirms what emergency physicians already know: it is too early to return to our former routines without the right pieces in place. If we do not continue following safety guidelines, more people will fall ill, more lives will be lost, our economy will be halted again and our hospitals may get stretched beyond capacity.

We are already seeing these consequences as more patients visit emergency departments in states that have relaxed social distancing and reopened businesses that require human contact as part of their services—like salons, spas or tattoo parlors.

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Concerned citizens must continue to stay vigilant. Now is the time to show our compassion and courage. We all must take necessary steps for our own care and to protect our friends, families, neighbors and colleagues. Our daily conveniences cannot come before human lives.

Without a vaccine, adequate testing and more PPE, social distancing is our only line of defense in containing the spread of COVID-19. We must continue to limit in-person interactions, keep a safe distance between others, wear masks and other protective gear and sanitize diligently.

We cannot ease up now—regardless of what our states allow.

I am calling for citizens to continue social distancing—not because I want to prolong the consequences of this virus, but because I want to see an end to them. Health care professionals and scientists understand COVID-19 best, and we know that gathering in groups will undo the progress we’ve all made together.

We need exponentially more tests nationwide to inform decisions about reopening. And, we must make sure everyone, especially those on the frontlines and essential workers across sectors, has the protective equipment that they need to safely do their jobs.

The country continues to suffer because we were slow in enacting stay-at-home orders two months ago. Now, we risk repeating that same fate. Please listen to those of us who witness the impact of COVID-19 every day.

The nation’s emergency physicians implore you to continue following safety guidelines to protect yourself, your family and your community. If you let down your guard before the bell, you leave yourself vulnerable to a knockout punch.

Dr. William P. Jaquis, MD, is the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.