Original article written by Kate Thayer for the Chicago Tribune, published on May 7th, 2020. Link to original article may be found HERE. Photo credit to Stacey Wescott of the Chicago Tribune.
In between telehealth appointments with patients, preschool Zoom calls, daily household tasks and, in one case, childbirth, a group of doctors — mostly moms, all with young children — are making sure the public and policymakers have the latest advice for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s important to not only disseminate information to the public, but it’s also really important to utilize our platforms and our education … to help our government on how to come up with plans to manage the pandemic in Illinois,” said Dr. Shikha Jain, 39, an oncologist and hematologist at Rush University Medical Center.
Jain and five other Chicago-area physicians, from varied and expansive medical backgrounds, joined together in mid-March after noticing the information they’d heard from colleagues in other states and overseas didn’t seem to be resonating in the Chicago area.
The tipping point in forming the group, they said, was seeing, on television, Chicago crowds celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, as well as the packed international terminal at O’Hare International Airport. And their current goal is to urge public officials to tread carefully in making decisions to reopen businesses and other public places.
“We can’t not say something,” said Dr. Eve Bloomgarden, 38, an endocrinologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We’re measuring this in the lives of our colleagues … and people we care about across the country who will be on front lines taking care of these people. It’s personal in a lot of ways.
“We were getting details from our colleagues in real time,” she said, referencing warnings of the severity of the virus. “The reason that brought us together was nobody was doing anything with this information in a way that was going to be fast enough.”
The group calls itself IMPACT, which stands for Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team. Its members have been writing op-eds, circulating petitions and starting social media campaigns, all in an effort to spread the word about the latest scientific findings and the best preventative measures for COVID-19. Other physicians across the country have joined their effort, and the website includes the group’s initiatives, along with regular blog posts and other resources, like how to thank health care workers.
They’ve also reached out to contacts working in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, state lawmakers and representatives in Congress to offer guidance.
The message seems to be getting through. Twitter hashtags they’ve coined, #6FtApartNotUnder and #TestTraceTreat, have been mentioned in media briefings by public officials.
While two of the group’s doctors are still seeing patients for office visits in person, Jain and Bloomgarden have yet to be called to serve in COVID units at their hospitals. In the meantime, they said it’s their responsibility to pass along what they believe is the best, science-based information. And they do this while juggling virtual treatment of their patients and parenting during quarantine.
Jain, who lives in the West Loop, has a 5-year-old daughter and twin 2½-year-old sons. Bloomgarden, of Northbrook, has a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. The six founders of the group all have young children. One is a dad and five are moms — one of whom gave birth last month. Bloomgarden said Zoom calls with the group can be “really interesting.”
“We’re alternating who mutes and who doesn’t,” she said. “There’s laughs, screams, giggles and ‘what did you just throw at me.’”
Some are also married to other physicians who are treating coronavirus patients. Jain said her husband has been forced, at times. to isolate at his parents’ empty condo to protect his family, but that means Jain has to balance all of her responsibilities alone.
But they say the extra work this group takes on is their duty.
“When we saw people not understanding the big deal that coronavirus was, we felt it was our responsibility to take the information we were learning and disseminate it in a quick, effective way,” Jain said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she added. “COVID is a very complex and complicated virus that we are learning about on a daily basis. So the importance of having physicians who are able to synthesize the data has been a big part of our mission.”
State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, first heard from Bloomgarden, who lives in his district on March 15. He said he remembers the date because her conversation caused him to cancel his plans to play hockey.
“It was one of those scared straight moments,” he said. “She called me … to kind of go through really what she saw, what she knew of COVID-19 and how dangerous it is and how much it’s spreading.”
Carroll said Bloomgarden’s information caused him and his family to rethink their own precautions, even ahead of Illinois’ stay-at-home order.
Now, he regularly talks with Bloomgarden and passes along information from IMPACT to Pritzker’s office. “She’s had my ear from day one.”
Now IMPACT is focusing on responsible reopening of the state, and the country.
Jain said Tuesday’s announcement on how to reopen the state in phases is the right approach, but much is needed before moving on to the next phase, like more testing and tracing, particularly in hot spots like nursing homes.
“When we talk about reopening the country and states, the challenge is it’s not going to be going back to business as usual. A vaccine is at least a year away,” Jain said. “So the chance of reopening the country and having to go back to the normal we knew six months ago is not practical or realistic.”
The group worries about warm weather luring more people together, and the public’s patience wearing thin. They also worry about politics or public pressure getting in the way of science.
“Nobody wants to stay home; the economic devastation we understand,” Bloomgarden said. “But epidemiologists, physicians, scientists and the experts, everyone is in agreement if we just reopen, this will come back with a vengeance and we will all be New York.”
“The chance of a second surge is pretty high,” added Jain. “We just need to be very careful when we talk about reopening the country and how we do it safely.”