On July 29, I posed questions to readers in a commentary titled “US Stock Market Sectors and Gainesville, Florida,” https://www.cumber.com/cumberland-advisors-market-commentary-us-stock-market-sectors-gainesville-florida/. News had just broken about University of Florida Health anesthesiology residents and one fellow who had contracted COVID-19 infections at an off-campus party (“18 in UF Health anesthesiology contract virus after party,” https://www.gainesville.com/news/20200727/18-in-uf-health-anesthesiology-contract-virus-after-party). I asked, “Should the school investigate the party? If there was a party, should the school congratulate the medical students for achieving herd immunity at this party and offer them a cum laude degree? Expel them? Suspend them? Assign a research paper on epidemiology?”
We’ve received replies from readers, and I’d like to share them, as promised. Perspectives varied widely.
Richard from Tampa saw the party as a matter of individual choice:
“Regarding party in Gainesville, the government (or in this case a public school which is an extension of the government) has absolutely no business making a judgement one way or the other. It is individuals’ rights (and their OWN responsibilities) to act. If the university wants to do a paper to study it, great. The country has currently completely lost its direction. Though these things seem small, they are the things that wars have been fought over. And unfortunately probably will be again. It is not government’s role in a free society to dictate what people shall do.”
Frank Mitchell, MD, UF College of Medicine 1969, advocated for a robust, instructive response:
“First, of course, contact tracing. Which patients and attending physicians have been infected by this horde of residents?
“Second, force each one to write an apology to every patient or other unsuspecting doc they may have infected – in longhand – written and supervised and rewritten until the dean thinks they have it right.
“Third, a 60-day suspension from clinical rotations so that they do not finish their residencies until they have done the extra 60 days.
“Fourth, write on the blackboard 1000 times, ‘Stupid is as Stupid Does.’
“Since they have all acted like 11 year olds, they need to be treated as such.”
Doug Wuerl also called for follow-up and a writing assignment:
“I would investigate the party:
1. Actual infections of students at party and infection rate
2. Seriousness of illness, did any actually get sick or were they passive carriers
3. Any treatments used and how effective, if needed
4. Did the students self-quarantine after the party, for how long?
5. Were any other people infected by the students: staff, teachers, family, friends?
“If after the investigation, it was found out that a student had self-quarantined and no other people were infected by that student, the student should be assigned with all of the other students falling into the same category of writing a joint paper on the subject. The paper should be properly supervised by the school and should be of sufficient caliber and quality to then be submitted for publication by the NEJM, CDC, or other equally prestigious organization, excluding the WHO, and the students should receive credit for the paper.
“Any students who did not make sure to not pass the disease on should receive a failing grade in the epidemiology or infectious disease class and be forced to take the class over.”
Marty called upon those infected to become plasma donors:
“It’s too easy to begin making jokes. Those infected should submit to contact tracing, where appropriate be plasma donors, and finally become a part of a campaign to tell others what to do right. They were foolish, but they have an opportunity to become advocates.”
Paul called for a pragmatic approach:
“Public health policy has to rely on the public attitudes and behaviors as they are, not what one would like them to be. Young people take more risks, and those working in health care face a lot of stress and will seek relief. The virus feeds on that as vulnerability so clearly declines with age. Like it or not, we will be better off with policies that seek to segregate and protect the more vulnerable parts of society, than we are with attempts to change everyone’s behavior.
“Stay well, and don’t expect this mess to end any time soon!”
“All your options are incorrect. In today’s world, they should be ‘cancelled.’”
Tom was duly shocked:
“WOW!! Preliminary thoughts on this Very serious issue:
“Did anyone among them know or have reason to suspect he/she they were afflicted? Violation(s) of Hippocratic Oath?
“UF Health & Gainesville have far more community transmission than they might suspect…. Relatively unscathed so far, Gainesville is now a Hot Spot in FL’s mess!?! Finally, I’ve asked my brother whose Emory Medical charge is training Visiting Fellows, for his thoughts …. and that of his Fellows as well.”
Marc doubled down on the reckless residents:
“I like the ‘suspend and paper in epidemiology’ approach, the paper to be handwritten and submitted in ten duplicate originals.
J.O. drew a line, in thoughtful terms, between people’s private lives and the institutions they are associated with:
“I am sure the irony of the university healthcare folks contracting The Virus down in Gainesville, while not being perhaps as socially distant as they could/should have been, will be lost on no one. But, from the descriptions in the article, it sounds as though this was a private party and not a university-sponsored nor endorsed event.
“So, whether a university system, a private employer, or any other organization, why are they compelled to have their communications director out there making statements on such an event? Better yet, why is anyone even asking the university system questions that the university then feels needs an “official” statement/response (that was, appropriately, as plain vanilla as the communications director could have made it).
“From the article: Are these folks going to return to work (or be fired)? Morey did not respond… his (email) message did not mention a party … details about the party were not immediately clear … conflicting statements could not be resolved…. The hospital system declined to confirm or dispute the outbreak or a party…. The incident also raised questions about transparency in uncovering information about outbreaks… yada yada yada….
“It was a private function, held off campus, while these folks were off duty, on their own free time, making their own free choices about conducting themselves.
“Anytime anyone suggests our activities of such a private manner require organizational responses and that details need to be made clear/transparent (and apparently public), remind them not so gently that we live in a free, democratic republic and society. Sometimes our news outlets, reporters, and large organizations just can’t help themselves, I guess.
“Any wonder why we had outcries and local ordinances passed to close religious services but that ‘social protest’ gatherings became the new ‘in’ thing? I am no conspiracy theorist here, but I believe we should all pay attention to whoever wishes to ignore or abuse our personal privacy and civil and constitutional rights. Be wary of those who so speak the loudest.
“Like you, I agree we need to be careful about this Virus. But, life is and will and should go on for everyone. Even for those whose personal choices may differ from our own. It is THEIR choice. The university system’s response, thus far, seems appropriate – mere reiteration of safe behaviors and encouragement to be careful in our personal choices regarding The Virus.”
Jim went with the succinct approach:
“Reply to the ‘PARTY’ — YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID.”
Lindsey reflected on US culture:
“Here is my take of the medical school residents contacting the virus by attending a party.
1. Dumb on their part, yet it is so easy to call out dumbness under this pandemic paranoia.
2. It makes me wonder about the willingness of US citizens to sacrifice for the good of the whole.
3. Finally, it really is a good indication of our selfish behaviour. In general, US citizens are very out of tune of what it means to be a responsible citizen.
“It would be interesting to know how sick these folks got.”
Dave considered the case of Sweden and the likelihood that we will have to learn to coexist with COVID-19:
“I have zero clue what should be done about the outbreak with the UF Health system. Did some of their staff exercise poor judgement based on the current atmosphere? Probably. Should any punishment be levied? Maybe, but if any punishment is given, should every organization hypothetically be willing to administer the same punishment for socializing?
“But I do know that groupthink will become the end of us all; and it seems people have forgotten the first rule of debate is to be able to articulate and frame the other side of the argument.
“While this novel virus remains a risk, I don’t believe media outlets have allowed nor have the medical professionals seemed willing to objectively frame the risks of this virus as time has gone on. It is possible this virus will never go away, but we’ll eventually be able to co-exist with it (as we do with influenza and bubonic plague).
“Reading more and more about the current facts and data around Sweden’s current economic situation, the media coverage and headlines around the country’s contrarian decision to not shut down economic activity told a drastically different story. If you solely read the major US newspaper headlines (and even the body of the articles), you would presume the Swedes would be up in arms as the death toll continues to climb or at least at a plateau. Their economy actually grew in Q1 and their schools remain open and the leisure and entertainment industry hasn’t been cut in two.
“Some estimate Sweden may have already reached herd immunity. Using the state level data from Bloomberg and the various estimated infection fatality rates from sources (here and here) such as the CDC, Johns Hopkins & the University of Southern California, the math implies it is possible anywhere from 20% to over 68% of the earliest hit states’ populations were infected. So it is possible we have hit the herd immunity threshold in some places, especially if the true r0 of the virus is any near the value of 1.0.
“Anyone 100% sold that ‘shut it down’ was the proper reaction and no one should be allowed to resume previous normal social interaction should think about how they would answer these questions:
– If the COIVD19 infection fatality rate moves towards a marginally worse flu season, should such dramatic preemptive action be taken with future influenza outbreaks?
– And if so, does the federal government have the right to mandate any actions across all states regardless of their health risks from demographics, population density or access to healthcare (to name only a few factors)?”
I’d like to thank everyone who weighed in on the question of what to do in response to the Gainesville, FL, party attended by aspiring medical professionals who should have known better. As I see it, the dean of the medical school now has a great opportunity to provide a teaching example in preventative medicine, epidemiology, contact tracing, and all of the elements of the discipline required to diminish sickness, risk, and deaths. UF Health can do so with high-profile, public acclaim for the university and demonstrate the power of a university’s turning an adverse experience into a lesson for students, alumni, and anyone paying attention and willing to learn. The alternative is cover-up and silence. UF must choose whether to make the world better or to let it wend its own way toward worse. UF Health has to choose who it is, what it wants to be, and its role in the world.