COVID-19 Q&A Session with Dr. Tom Tuzel, Chief Medical Officer at VirtualMed Staff

Perspective: COVID-19 Interview with Dr. Tom Tuzel


Social distancing and other measures to reduce the spread of the virus have left many of us with questions and concerns. How can we cope with the stress of not seeing our friends and loved ones? How can we move forward after COVID-19 and return to normalcy? How can we share our appreciation to those in the frontlines fighting the disease?

The team at VirtualMed Staff share the same questions and concerns that many of us across America have during these uncertain and difficult times. To alleviate some of these fears and find answers, we reached out to VirtualMed Staff’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tom Tuzel, for a remote Q&A session with questions provided by the VirtualMed team.

Dr. Tuzel is a psychiatrist in New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, and has over a decade of experience working with mental illness and internal medicine in a number of hospitals across the city. We wanted to share Dr. Tuzel’s responses in the hopes that they can provide support and guidance for anyone in need.

For some of us, the idea of shelter in place and quarantine is a stressful and unnatural situation to be in. Do you have any advice on how to manage and get through this situation?

If you have the ability to go outside, then go outside, exercise, and spend time outdoors. Embrace technology, not only on a work basis, but also on a social basis to interact with others. The important thing to remember is that we have to socially distance ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we need to socially isolate ourselves. Just because you’re in the house doesn’t mean you can’t engage with friends, peers, and family.

I’m following the rules and not hoarding, so it’s frustrating to see others that are not socially distancing themselves or hoarding supplies. What should I do about that anger?

It’s alright to have that anger, and it’s time to embrace it. It bothers me when I see individuals still congregating, despite the orders to shelter in place. Social distancing saves lives and we all should hold true in our beliefs and morals and do the right thing. I think the vast majority of people are doing the right thing, but I don’t think it’s unheard of to request people to distance themselves.

There’s not a cop at every corner enforcing these rules, so if you see something then say something. You should feel comfortable knowing you’re doing the right thing, because people are really dying from this disease and it’s absolutely okay to enforce that.

I miss hugging and shaking hands and being in the same room with people from church/school/work/the neighborhood. Human beings are very social creatures, and that makes social distancing difficult. What are some coping strategies?

You’re right, we are social creatures and this is going to have negative repercussions on everyone’s mental health. So, how do we cope? You try do the best you can in the situation you’re given. That means calling your family and loved ones and sticking to routines. With everyone at home it’s easy to let yourself go and fall out of routines, but even though you’re stuck at home it’s important to still have a structure. For instance, what time you go to bed, wake up, your diet and exercise. Sometimes you have to force yourself to keep those routines because it’s easy to let them go when you’re under stress. That’s normal and a basic human response to fear or stress but having those routines can help maintain your mental health.

You can also contribute to those who need help the most by ordering groceries for someone who needs them, order food for loved ones, or run errands for people who can’t leave their homes.

What impact do you feel this COVID crisis will have on young people like adolescents/teens – who are old enough to be fearful, but still too young to navigate the situation? How can parents support them?

Honestly, I think society deals well with adversity when given the facts and transparency. By providing children and adolescents with the facts of the situation you allow them to have some ownership. It’s one thing to tell people to do something, but it’s another thing to have an understanding of the situation.

Letting them know the choice of not seeing a friend or giving up graduation is going to save lives is something much more powerful than any of those events would have been. The empowerment of letting them know what their choices are and how it gives back to the community will not only help them navigate the situation better, but will make them stronger individuals and leaders for years to come.

What can we do now for you and other physicians to help keep you motivated and energized to face the overwhelming workload and long hours?  How do we say thank you?

Give them a call or shoot them a text and let them know you’re engaged and appreciative. It’s important to stay in contact. The good thing about texts, as opposed to phone calls, is that when they’re in the ER and seeing patients and they get a message saying, “I’m thinking about you, hope all is well,” it lets them know that someone is on the other end thinking of them and giving support without interfering with what they’re doing. It really makes a difference.

What’s the one thing you wish people understood about navigating this crisis?

That if we truly minimize social contact, this virus would already be over. All of us need to do our part.

Is this “shelter in place” push going to make people fearful of others for months or even years to come?  How do people overcome their concern about this illness?

I think people should feel unsteady and uneased. Fear is a good thing right now, it’s an important primal trait to have right now to keep us safe.

We need to stay focused on staying safe right now.

When we get out of this and head back out into the world, anxiety will be extremely high. How do we readjust from the fear of being in crowds to embracing the presence of strangers again?

People are going to be anxious, and that’s okay. That’s common. It’s not going to be the same, especially early on, and this is going to have a lasting impact. In fact, we’re already seeing people adjust by constantly washing their hands and sanitizing after they’ve been out.

Initially, we’re going to limit gatherings, but people will embrace technology over meeting in large groups. As time goes on, people will gradually move back to normal. First, we’ll reconnect with family, then friends, and then distant friends, but it’ll take time.

Have you seen any positive come from this crisis?

I’ve seen a lot of unity and bonding happening. People are much more aware of the role other people are playing in keeping everything going; like the people keeping the internet working, working at grocery stores, the people staying home and making efforts to keep us healthy as a collective. It’s the community aspect of everyone coming together to help each other out.

I think we get used to this competitive attitude of “us versus them” at times, but when we have moments like this it becomes much more apparent how human and connected we are. In times of crisis it’s nice to see that sort of love and connection with everyone.

For more information about VirtualMed Staff’s response to COVID-19, please visit this link.