Chief physician: ‘We’re all in this together’

Approach difficult COVID-19 conversations with equal parts grace and solid info

Jeremy Cauwels and Courtney Collen talking together in a Facebook Live Q&A

These times are still unprecedented.

Recent national data shows the coronavirus pandemic has taken 1 in 500 American lives, surpassing the 1918 Spanish flu to become the deadliest pandemic in American history.

Still, it leaves communities divided and in many cases, some can’t agree to disagree.

From masking to the vaccine, misinformation is plaguing social media feeds and often bringing out the worst in people.

The U.S. Surgeon General came out with a report on the plague of medical misinformation, calling it a “public health crisis.”

Sanford Health Chief Physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., said reliable sources are important.

“When I want to get information about COVID, I ask a vaccine expert in a major medical center or those who study infectious diseases in my hospital,” Dr. Cauwels said in a recent Facebook Live Q&A. “I won’t ask my auto mechanic about my knee pain or my bone doctor about my car.”

Pandemic is straining relationships

The American Family Survey, the first major survey of family dynamics since the pandemic began, found 37% of married men and women said the pandemic increased stress in their marriage, citing economic hardship.

The Washington Post also reported pandemic stress is impacting relationships with friends and families.

“It’s important to understand that everybody has an opinion and that there are lots of them out there,” Dr. Cauwels said.

During a recent Facebook Live Q&A with Sanford Health News on Sept. 22, Dr. Cauwels addressed the animosity on some social media platforms.

While viewing COVID-19 content on various social media channels, he sees posts and comments that give him pause.

“I’ve seen comments recently saying, ‘If you don’t get the vaccine, I hope this happens to you,’ or ‘I hope you get really sick’ or something else.”

‘We’re all in this together’

He wants everyone to know that’s not the goal.

“We shouldn’t be talking like that about our fellow man and fellow woman on Facebook or anywhere else,” Dr. Cauwels said. “I think (the vaccine) is an important way to go, medically. But just because somebody disagrees with me, doesn’t mean those people deserve a worse fate than I deserve because of the choice I made.”

As the pandemic continues, he encourages kindness, respect and grace.

“I’m an advocate for the vaccine because I feel like it’s an important way out of this pandemic. But obviously, I think it’s also important to be decent humans and to make sure that everybody understands that we’re all in this together.”

How to navigate difficult conversations

First and foremost, Dr. Cauwels said there’s nothing about this virus that should destroy a family or friendship.

The second part, he says, is identifying your trusted sources of information and making sure you’re willing to go to those before anything else.

“I ask the people I feel are most qualified to answer the question,” he added. “Like asking a stockbroker about a stock or car mechanic about my car, I’ll ask a doctor about a vaccine.”

Trusting the source of information and feeling comfortable sharing it, while attributing the legitimate source, avoids picking a fight with someone you care about.

“Approach it with kindness,” he said.

“Others will speak with the same amount of passion and the same amount of fire, if you will, that I do on the side of vaccines I stand on. Those who disagree believe every bit of what they’re saying in the same way I believe what I’m saying.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations, Wellness

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