How and why to respect the coronavirus

A conversation with BCBSAZ Chief Medical Officer James Napoli, M.D.

The virus that causes COVID-19 hardly seems like something that deserves our respect. After all, it is the reason for a pandemic that has already sickened more than ten million people and led to a half-million deaths—including nearly 3,000 in Arizona.* Why would health experts suggest we respect it?

We talked to Dr. James Napoli, chief medical officer at Blue Cross® Blue Shield® of Arizona (BCBSAZ) to find out more.

You and other clinicians have talked about how important it is to “respect the virus.” What exactly do you mean by that?

Dr. Napoli: Basically, it’s a way of reminding people that COVID-19 can be very serious and we need to take every precaution to protect ourselves and others from it. The coronavirus is a worldwide pandemic and we all need to do our part to mitigate its spread.

How does wearing masks and engaging in social distancing relate to the idea of respecting the virus?

Dr. Napoli: Following these simple safety precautions is a way to keep more people safe. When you wear a mask and stay a safe distance away from others when in public, you are taking an action that protects everyone. (We even have an easy-to-read dos and don’ts article on how to wear cloth masks in our Health Library.) Our infection rates in Arizona are trending up, which raises the number of people who could potentially end up in the hospital. Keeping our hospitals from filling up past their normal capacity is vital to ensuring we can take care of everyone who gets sick, whether it’s with COVID-19 or other illnesses. It is important for all of us to take coronavirus safety measures seriously so we can take responsibility for our communities, and especially help protect vulnerable populations. I can think of no better way to show respect than for each of us to do our part to stop the spread of a potentially deadly illness.

Arizona’s number of positive reported COVID-19 cases began to spike in early June and the rate of new cases continues to rise daily. How are those changing statistics connected to this topic?

Dr. Napoli: This particular coronavirus is considered novel, which means it is new. It continues to be studied so that we can understand its clinical manifestations and viral characteristics. Early on, Arizona was not impacted as significantly as were other parts of the country, and there are many theories about why that was true. One idea is that Arizonans may have assumed we were safer, so we took fewer precautions in the early phase of the pandemic. This virus is spread through both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases, which makes it imperative for everyone to follow the recommended safety precautions.

What would you ask every Arizonan to do to help bring down our state’s case count?

Dr. Napoli: We can all play a role in protecting ourselves and others: Wear a mask properly when you’re out in public, stay six feet away from other people when you leave your home, wash your hands and clean high-touch surfaces frequently, avoid crowds, and remember we all have a responsibility not just to protect ourselves, but also to protect our fellow Arizonans.

What is BCBSAZ doing to protect the health and safety of Arizonans during the pandemic?

Dr. Napoli: Since the earliest days of this crisis, we’ve been hard at work making sure our members get the care they need, the information they need, and the support they need. There’s a dedicated section of our website where we’ve posted all the information people might want—and it’s all available to the public, including people who aren’t BCBSAZ members. There are overviews of coverage updates and instructions on how to access care, including virtual care. There’s also a whole library of articles about how to navigate the everyday realities and cope with the challenges of life in the era of COVID-19.

When it comes to our employees, we continue to make safety a top priority. We will remain working remotely until we have objective evidence that it is safe to return to our facilities. We will continue to engage our providers and support our front-line healthcare workers as well through a variety of initiatives.

Our personal responsibility to respect others and be considerate in our actions has never been greater. I urge everyone to remain committed to our common cause and respect the virus and each other. Together, we can make a difference.