A friend practices medicine in the Princeton area. He talked with me recently about what it’s like to be a doctor in the COVID era. He described the precautions he takes when seeing patients, including wearing a face shield over multiple masks throughout his work day. He spoke about colleagues who suffered from the disease after contracting it from patients, and about the number of medical professionals who had died from COVID nationwide. He related the anxiety that local nurses and doctors feel as case counts rise nationally, in New Jersey, and in Mercer County.
His comments reminded me of an important point, one worth remembering when we are fatigued by social distancing and eager to reconnect with friends and family during the holiday season. If we take risks with our own health during this pandemic, we inevitably take risks with other people’s health, including the health of the doctors and nurses we count upon to treat us if we do get ill.
We have been fortunate that students and others currently on the Princeton campus have, with very few exceptions, continued to follow public health protocols, contributing to the wellbeing of our community. As we prepare for the upcoming semester, it will be crucial that everyone invited back to campus—students, faculty, and staff—maintain that level of vigilance.
Irresponsible behavior can kill people we’ve never met. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6945a5.htm), about a summer wedding in Maine, illustrates the point. The wedding became a super-spreader event. Nobody at the wedding died or required hospitalization. But the partygoers transmitted the disease to others. Seven people died because of the wedding, people who had nothing to do with it and no ability to control the selfish behavior of those who attended.
We are seeing infection rates tick upward in the University’s asymptomatic testing program. The spread is happening within the community, rather than on campus. Home gatherings are a major source of infections in New Jersey and the United States, and such gatherings will be even harder to resist as we head into the holiday season. We are all tired of social distancing, mask‑wearing, and other precautions, but we need to remain vigilant and careful—for yourself and for your loved ones, for the doctors and nurses upon whom we count, and, indeed, for everyone in the communities around us.