"Control the controllables." This is the advice I give my children, my legislative team, and my critical care teams in the hospital when we must accomplish a goal and the best course of action is unclear.
It's the mantra in my head when I feel overwhelmed. It's also the framing we must keep in mind in this latest stage of the pandemic.
Since mid-June, the highly contagious delta variant has changed the nature of Oregon's fight against COVID-19. Our hospital and intensive care beds are filling up. More and more patients with the virus have had to be intubated. Children have been getting sicker.
Regardless of how concerned each of us is with COVID-19, its existence has had a significant impact on our lives. Uncertainty is stressful and it has taken a toll on us all. Our inability to control the pandemic's impact on us is causing stress, anger, fear and for some, trauma.
I have been caring for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) who have severe COVID pneumonia since March of 2020. For many months we had no vaccine and were clamoring for a way to prevent infection. Thankfully, we now have very effective vaccines! But as of last month, 91% of COVID-19 deaths were among Oregonians who were unvaccinated.
We know breakthrough cases will happen, however the vaccines are incredibly effective with fewer than 1% of those who are fully vaccinated having a breakthrough infection resulting in hospitalization or death.
Each of us has the power to protect the health and safety of our communities through vaccination, social distancing and masking. This surge of the delta variant underscores the need for urgent individual and community action to limit its spread.
Our individual choice regarding vaccination has profound implications on our own health as well as those around us in our community. As the infection spreads, the chance of more variants emerging increases. We must do all we can to prevent another variant from moving through our communities. The next one may have the potential to do far more harm than delta.
To do this we must control the things we can at every level. Lawmakers, health care providers, public health leaders, community leaders and individuals. Each and every one of us can and must take steps to protect ourselves and our community.
Elected officials have taken definitive and accountable action by reinstating mask requirements where people will publicly gather indoors. We must do everything possible to make vaccines accessible to communities with lower vaccination rates, ensuring the vaccine is given by trusted clinicians who can give culturally specific care. Testing capacity and efficiency must be improved. Contact tracing remains an important tool and we need to make sure we have the means to use it.
Business owners, school districts, universities and community-based organizations all have some ability to lead as well. At all levels we can control the controllables using the following tools:
• Full vaccination. Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, are all effective against the delta variant, especially in preventing severe illness and death.
• Masking. Wear a high-quality mask, like a KN95, when indoors with people outside of your "bubble."
• Distancing. Avoid gathering in large groups.
We are fortunate to live in a time of unparalleled scientific knowledge and discovery. As our understanding of how to combat this pandemic evolves, so must we. In my role as a health care professional, I must adapt as new therapies are proven effective. As lawmakers, we must be willing to adapt our positions and our policies to science, with a common goal of preserving the safety and health of all.
State Rep. Maxine Dexter, M.D., represents District 33, encompassing Northwest Portland and Northeast Washington County.
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