How You Can Help Yourself and Others

March 26, 2020

Update from the Chair on How You Can Help Yourself and Others

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

The most important message for today, and every day, remains as follows: if you are sick, PLEASE DO NOT come to work. We are already experiencing the consequences of this behavior on some of our clinical services. Remember:

"Physical separation is the best way to slow the spread. The fewer contacts, and the greater distance between people, the better. That’s why nonessential businesses need to be closed, especially in outbreak areas. This virus is spread person to person and it spreads explosively."

There has been a lot of discussion -- and a lot of noise -- about the value of serological testing for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Our Director of Laboratory Medicine, Dr. Irving Nachamkin, has put together a useful summary, which you can access here. As he states: 

At this time, we need to hold off on considering antibody tests until there is clear guidance from CDC about whether antibody tests are useful at all in managing the ongoing outbreak and under what circumstances

I hope that every one of us knows that this crisis will not vanish soon and that we need to be ready to make difficult decisions. At the same time, I am convinced that the Department will emerge as a more unified and integrated entity to the benefit of the greater Penn Medicine community. Here are a few ways you can help yourself and others:

  • I invite you to share with me insights into how your unit or entity is coping with this crisis. Were there moments in which your team was able to solve a problem creatively? Have you learned something about yourself or your team that is surprising? Or, put simply, what is happening in your particular area that you find inspiring? Please send them to me with the subject line [PennLab], so I can collect these and include them in future updates to your colleagues.

  • If you have any leads on a vendor or supplier of PPE, please forward or send an email to This will ensure that the information gets to the right people more quickly.

  • Self-care is essential at this moment in time. We need to attend to our own needs so that we can be optimally effective in our roles as healthcare providers. Penn Medicine offers 30-minute facilitated video sessions around Self-Care on the Front Line. See this link for the schedule.

Although this is a stressful and challenging time, it does present some opportunities. One of those is that it forces us to think about new ways to do things. I have started keeping a journal of changes that we can make that will not only help us cope with the epidemic, but could also help us do our regular work better. What do I mean by better? I think the list could be quite long but it includes more efficiently, more safely, and more compassionately. I encourage you to do the same.

There is one other thing I want to share with you today. Many of us are in isolation, under lockdown orders, or confined by other movement restrictions. But what should you do when you are able to go out for food or groceries? Here is a very informative video by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen from Michigan on how to safely handle your food items in the store and at home.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other. The better we take care of ourselves, the more we can help our patients.

David Roth
Chair, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine