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Guest column

It's irresponsible to ignore coronavirus prevention guidelines

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As a retired physician, I am writing to express my deep concern with the irresponsible attitude too many Montanans are showing toward current “shelter in place” guidelines enacted in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

All around our state, people continue to gather for clearly non-essential purposes as a result of magical thinking. It can’t happen here. There are effective medications that can save us. I’m too young and healthy to contract the disease. If only any of this were true.

Really, really wanting to believe something will not make it true. It may have worked for Peter Pan, but it will not alter the course of the current epidemic.

Critics of recent actions to limit the spread of coronavirus have suggested that the efforts of Gov. Steve Bullock and state agencies represent governmental overreach, but nothing could be further from the truth. These actions represent government attempting to fulfill its highest obligation: protecting the welfare of its citizens. That’s why we have laws against drunk driving. Ignoring social distancing guidelines is just as irresponsible.

The country’s coronavirus death toll has now surpassed that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We responded to that tragedy with an investment of billions of dollars and thousands of lives that produced equivocal results at best. Is it now really too much to ask that people simply self-quarantine until this epidemic is under control?

During my working years I cared for many patients dying on ventilators, and it was a grim experience for all involved. Recent communication with front-line physicians in New Orleans suggests that most coronavirus patients on ventilators don’t survive to leave the hospital. More ventilators won’t stop this epidemic. Neither will a vaccine — which is likely a year away — or hydroxychloroquine, or other exercises in magical thinking.

We are fortunate to live in one of the states that has taken some of the proactive steps to control the epidemic that have been so sorely lacking at the federal level. Now it is up to us as individuals and Montana communities to pay attention to them.

E. Donnall Thomas Jr. of Lewistown is a retired medical doctor. He is a board certified internist with experience in both infectious diseases and ICU medicine who has practiced in rural Montana since 1973.

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