Since March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and radically changed many behaviors we once considered normal, from the way we shop, work, access health care, and educate children, to the way we interact with neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends. From the onset of the pandemic, the North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS) supported the strong mitigation efforts to lessen the transmission of COVID-19 and its potential negative impact on the health of North Carolinians. Our members—representing North Carolina’s physicians and physician assistants—understood clearly how these mitigation efforts were critical tools for them as frontline responders treating COVID-19 patients. NCMS members also understood that these mitigation efforts were important to protecting all healthcare workers. As the key metrics begin to trend in the right direction, it is now time to use what we know about public health pandemics and endemics to critically and judiciously plan the next steps that we should take. The next steps we take should be geared more towards individual behaviors to manage and assess ongoing personal risk and less towards public mandates.

“Vaccines have been an effective tool for minimizing potential health (personal and public) hazards associated with COVID. Vaccines are also vital in slowing widespread viral transmission resulting in increased disease progression as measured by hospitalizations and deaths. We are seeing success to that end. Now, we must accept that very much like the seasonal flu, COVID-19 will be among us on the list of SARs viruses. We must learn to live with it in a safe and thoughtful way. Patients should rely on their trusted physician to help them evaluate their personal risk and safely navigate life in the new post-pandemic COVID era,” said Michael Utecht, MD, NCMS President.

Assessing personal risk includes identifying hazards where you could be exposed to COVID, deciding your personal risk tolerance on your health status and the health status of those in your immediate family and environment, and the impact on you and your family if you were to contract COVID. “Evaluating risk is something that we commonly do without thinking, like when we drive a car.” said Chip Baggett, EVP & CEO of NCMS. “Your primary physician has the deep understanding of your personal health history and lifestyle to assist you in developing a personal COVID risk determination. That is where people should now turn to for guidance.”

Baggett says: “We are mindful, however, that there are communities and segments of the population who may not have a primary care provider or local physician. Health disparities and inequities remain serious issues that we must continue to confront and address. For people who may never visit a doctor until a disease has worsened, it is important that they have clear guidance on what they can do to practice healthy behaviors to minimize their personal risk. Therefore, the NCMS will be exploring ways to collaborate with stakeholders to promote public messaging to reach wider audiences than those who have primary care physicians or meet regularly with their local doctors.”