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July 23, 2020

Distancing Without Isolating—Connection in the Era of COVID-19

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Radiation Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland
JAMA Oncol. Published online July 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2725

Caring for patients with cancer can be difficult at the best of times. The delicate interplay between a complex disease, multidisciplinary management, social barriers, family support, and mental health makes the field of oncology uniquely challenging and rewarding. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its accompanying illness, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a global pandemic. To adequately care for patients, we now must add the pandemic’s accompanying medical, social, and economic challenges to the mosaic of obstacles. Although our commitment to curing patients’ cancer is unwavering, our focus has undeniably shifted. In the pre–COVID-19 era, we aimed to support patients both medically and emotionally through the safest and most effective treatment possible. Today we may be asking ourselves, “How much can I minimize a patient’s contact with the health care system while still providing quality care?” or “Are we willing to accept a slightly higher risk of toxic effects to minimize a patient’s exposure to the virus?” or importantly, “How can I keep patients from feeling isolated while insisting on their social isolation?”

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    1 Comment for this article
    Social Distancing, Self Isolation, Conscientious Discipline and Respect During COVID-19
    Michael McAleer, PhD(Econometrics),Queen's | Asia University, Taiwan
    The sensitive and compassionate Viewpoint by two radiation medical specialists highlights the key issues associated with care for cancer patients, which involves social distancing and self isolation, among other responsible actions, in a COVID-19 world.

    The difficult suppression and the highly unlikely elimination strategies require conscientious discipline and respect for each other in a COVID-19 world by all members of society, starting from the most senior government administrators, and leading medical and public healthcare officials.

    Providing quality healthcare for cancer patients with compromised immune systems is demanding of seemingly tireless and heroic healthcare workers at the best of

    However, their inner strength and compassion are called upon more heavily when faced with the extreme likelihood that their patients, as well as they themselves, face the distinct prospect of contracting COVID-19.

    On a related issue facing the community, social distancing and self isolation are mandatory in many states, but the wearing of masks is not.

    Even where masks might be required, there always seem to be exemptions, including joggers and cyclists, which make consistent healthcare advice seemingly ambiguous and confusing.

    The psychological anxiety, distress and pain suffered by cancer patients, who might also be denied human connection, can be dramatically worsened when faced with the risk of COVID-19.

    It is at times like these that oncologists, chemotherapy and radiation therapists, oncology nurses, related healthcare professionals, and healthcare and homecare providers demonstrate most poignantly that their career choices are life-saving and dutiful missions for all who need their calming presence and understanding the most, for which we are truly humbled and grateful.