'New normal' is anything but normal

November 23, 2021 | 04:47 pm PT
Le Thi Anh Thu Doctor
Coronavirus patients have been calling my hotline number for days now, and I’m beginning to think Christmas and Tet are not going to be peaceful holidays.

I and my colleagues, all doctors manning hotlines of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health for Covid-19, thought things would ease up once the country entered the "new normal."

But we were wrong.

Calls have been coming in non-stop for two weeks now, asking the same questions we have been hearing these past few months.

"My test came back positive; why am I infected despite getting my shots?" "My whole family has the virus, what do I do?"

Most of my patients have already received two shots, so their symptoms typically stop at coughing, light fever or runny nose, not too different from a common cold. But there are some with more severe conditions, like elderly people or those with comorbidities.

A few days ago a Covid-19 patient called and I had her wheeled to a hospital. She has lung cancer. Her blood oxygen level in the morning was 95 percent, but dropped to 80 percent at noon. She was put on ventilators immediately.

Vietnam might have entered the new normal, but it is far from what anyone would call "normal."

As long as the coronavirus exists, there will be waves to watch out for. You can enjoy life as it is while keeping the gears of society turning, but have to know that a storm is waiting on the horizon. The moment we let our guard down, it will hit.

So how do we move forward?

As a veteran doctor working on infection control for years, I know it is hard to convince people, even health workers, to follow basic preventive measures. We were taught how pathogens jump from one host to another, and to educate others on how to prevent it. But habits die hard. People listen to our advice but do not always follow it.

If asked what the most important measure to prevent infections is, over 97 percent of health workers will say "washing hands." But my observation is that only a little more than half of them actually do so after making contact with surfaces while taking care of patients.

The reason why people do not follow such procedures is not because they lack the knowledge, but because of psychological factors like habit and personal perception, and sometimes even cultural factors, epidemiological studies have shown.

But this pandemic has made people pay more attention to personal hygiene. One report said 90 percent of health workers in hospitals abided by hand hygiene procedures during the pandemic compared to the 50-70 percent earlier.

Even in public, hand disinfectants can now be found everywhere and people wear masks.

While these behavior changes are certainly a good sign, they are waning. People seem to forget too quickly what the coronavirus can do if left unchecked. Just yesterday crowds gathered to party, eat and dance without masks or social distance.

"Living with" the pandemic does not mean forgoing every defense we have. Many believe that life should return to normal now that people are vaccinated and getting infected won't be a big deal. But the truth is the virus doesn't care about what you think. It will continue to seek out hosts, slipping through the tiniest cracks to get to our most vulnerable population.

Please don't give the virus that chance.

More cases will come in future, that much is certain. I believe it is time to revise our long-term strategy to deal with the virus, whether it is by authorities or by each of us.

Mere propaganda will not be enough to create and entrench new habits: There should be concrete actions like separating seats or deploying patrols to ensure social distancing and prevent large gatherings.

But even with all that, there will be those who will not listen. We must be relentless, keep hammering the habits in until they are adopted.

It could be a long haul, but the only way.

*Le Thi Anh Thu is the chairwoman of Ho Chi Minh City Infection Control Society. The opinions expressed are her own.

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