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What You Need To Know About Coronavirus With Dr. Randy Sharma

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On this episode of Culture, Comms, and Cocktails, we have Tamara Rodman, Executive Vice President of Employee Experience at Edelman.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Dr. Randy Sharma, host of the Rock Doc Chronicles.

Dr. Randy Sharma is a family practice doctor in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Sharma is also the host of this own podcast, the Rock Doc Chronicles. In this episode we take a deeper look at the current situation with coronavirus and why following the guidelines is more important than ever now.

“This is affecting everybody in different ways, especially with finances. We’re all in this together. We will be taken care of. In the meantime, in the short term, we have to take care of each other. It’s paramount.” —Tamara Rodman

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, brought to you by SocialChorus. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #29 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Culture, Comms & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up. So settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred, and maybe on some with a twist and enjoy the top shelf guests I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus, and on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails, we’ve got a unique guest here. We’ve got Dr. Randy Sharma, host of the Rock Doc Chronicles. Randy, welcome to Culture, Comms & Cocktails.

Randy Sharma: Hey, Chuck. Thanks for having me. How are you?

Chuck Gose: I’m good. Grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms & Cocktails lounge, and let’s get started. I want to kick this off.

Randy Sharma: Let’s do this.

Chuck Gose: To share just how a little surreal it is having you on here, and I’m going to share with listeners exactly why. We have known each other for 35-ish years.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, a long time.

Chuck Gose: Going all the way back to the Jonathan Wright Elementary playground for Ohio.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, right, right.

Chuck Gose: Went all through school together, so I’m sure my mom and your parents will get a special kick out of this happening.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, I mean we were at each other’s houses constantly from elementary school through graduating high school.

Chuck Gose: And aside from all that, which is a lot, you’re also the host of the Rock Doc Chronicles, which is your podcast. But I also do want people to know that you’re a doctor, like a real doctor, like Rock Doc is your nickname and you don’t have just one with an honorary degree. You went to med school, the whole nine.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, I’m a family practice doctor in Columbus, Ohio. I work a lot with musicians and touring artists and so I’m kind of the go-to person in Columbus and so when bands come through town, that’s why they call me the Rock Doc. I also, my office is actually in the Nationwide Insurance World Headquarters building downtown in Columbus, Ohio. So yeah. So, we’e watching, even every day I’m watching as this unfolds and watching how people, how the administration there reacts to everything that’s happening right now in these surreal times.

Chuck Gose: And on your podcast you’ve been talking about, the last couple episodes, talking about the coronavirus. So I wanted to bring you here to share some of your expertise with listeners. Obviously like you said, you’re seeing kind of firsthand how these things are being communicated inside of a global enterprise. So, my first question to you, Dr. Sharma/Rock Doc, in crises like this one, what do you think is the employer’s responsibility to keep people informed versus people getting the news themselves from their preferred sources?

Randy Sharma: So, I think it’s important to make sure you have reliable sources. People are, of course, in this day and age really dependent on social media, on their friend circles to get information and there’s just a lot of misinformation out there. Even unfortunately, a lot of these press conferences from the White House are sending mixed messages and confusing people and making it even more difficult to tackle this situation.

Randy Sharma: So, really in an epidemic, a pandemic, or a health crisis like we’re seeing right now, the CDC website, the Center for Disease and Prevention at has a lot of great information. Also, your state or local health department should have some good information. Like in Ohio, we’re leading the way really I think on this, but like for us, I refer people a lot of times to just because that’s going to be up to date with the latest closures and whatever they’re doing across the state of Ohio. So, that’s really where it’s, yeah.

Chuck Gose: Now you mentioned things like closures and all this news is coming out and you think about what things were like a week ago versus the news today. What would you say to someone, again, as a medical professional, to people who wonder or even say out loud that this is an overreaction. Or maybe they’re even just thinking this is an overreaction. What do you say to people like that?

Randy Sharma: So kind of what I’ve been talking about to people a lot right now, in the last few days, is that we’ve seen the way this has gone in China. We’ve seen how it’s gone in other countries. Right now the biggest focus and the thing that we really have the most access to and understand, is how this happened in Italy. We have a situation there, where just a couple of weeks ago, they had a handful of cases and then now here we are three weeks later and the country is basically on lockdown. But it’s gotten so bad that people are, they don’t have the, and Italy has a good health system by the way, but there’s not enough equipment. There’s not enough ICU rooms, there’s not enough ventilators. And the doctors there are having to make some tough decisions.

Randy Sharma: So, what we really need to do and what we’re trying to do is learn from the situation that they’re in. And what that means is we have to stop the spread of this virus right now because it’s a pretty aggressive virus. It’s pretty contagious.

Randy Sharma: What I talked about and what I’ve been talking about in the office today to patients and what I was talking about in the episode of the Rock Doc Chronicles yesterday was just how much, as Amy Acton from the Health Department in Ohio said, every day matters. And the reason that matters is that when we look at viruses, when we look at contagious diseases, they have a thing called, really, we call it the R0. It’s an R subscript zero. What that means is how infectious is a disease. And really what you’re looking at is how many people, if there’s one person that’s infected, how many other people do you expect them to infect and you’re trying to control that environment.

Randy Sharma: This is a fluid number. That number is going to be based on the spread, how the disease is spread, how long that particular disease is contagious and how close of contact people have. This is kind of playing a role in why we need people to do this social distancing.

Randy Sharma: So if you have, really quickly, hopefully this doesn’t bore anybody, if you have an R0 number that’s less than one, it means that the disease is not spreading very much. If the R0 is equal to one, it means that it’s at a pretty steady state, one person is expected to infect one other person. That would be something like, generally like the influenza virus that we see in most normal years. When that R0 becomes greater than one, that means that the disease is spreading. And if something that’s R0 gets big enough and you don’t contain it, it can become an epidemic or a pandemic.

Randy Sharma: That’s what we’re seeing here. The numbers that they’re giving us right now, they’re kind of guessing. They’re putting some averages out there. Right now, they’re really saying that the R0 is 2.2 and what that means is every person that has been infected is expected to infect 2.2 other people.

Randy Sharma: Now we know that this disease, people are really a lot of times showing signs of infection within five days. So really we can say within five days, the people they infect will infect other people or they are at the point where they can infect other people.

Randy Sharma: However, the thing that really caused some rapid changes in Ohio over the weekend was the fact that people were not taking this social distancing seriously and they were going on St. Patrick’s day pub crawls. So immediately the next day, the governor shut down dine-in restaurants and bars.

Randy Sharma: The reason you have to do that is because of that contact, the close contact there. So, if you had an R, which let’s assume that it could be greater than this, but let’s assume that maybe R0, instead of 2.2, it made it 3.0. And let’s assume that this is going to spread every five days. If an R0 is 2.2, in five days you’re going to expect that that one person infected two, five days later, those two people infected two other people and five days later, you infect two other people. That means at the end of 15 days, which is two weeks, that one person was responsible for infecting a total of eight people.

Randy Sharma: Now if you are in these environments where people are in close quarters, they’re not following the guidelines that have been in place, let’s say the R0 goes to three. So, that one person now infected three people in five days. If you don’t contain it, they infect three other people and now you got three other people. So instead of being eight people, at the end of 15 days, you have a total of 27 people that are infected.

Randy Sharma: The reason that’s a big concern and what we’re trying to do with this whole concept of flattening the curve is we’re expecting about 20% of people that are infected with this coronavirus, this novel coronavirus, are going to need to be in the hospital, maybe in the ICU or on ventilators.

Randy Sharma: You take 20% of eight, that’s 1.6. You take 20% of 27 and that’s a 5.4, I think. But regardless, it’s a huge increase because when you take that across the entire population, you multiply that by thousands or tens of thousands and you can see how much that little bit makes a huge difference. So that’s why these guidelines, we’re getting progressive in what we’re cutting out and this is going to continue over the next week or two, probably the next week, as we try to contain this virus and keep it from spreading. Does that answer your question?

Chuck Gose: It does. It sounds like a really bad viral pyramid scheme.

Randy Sharma: It is, yes. That’s a great way to put it. It really is and you really need to stop having people buy into the pyramid scheme, right? You’ve got to break that up a little bit.

Chuck Gose: And I saw this play out over the weekend where in South Korea, they identified someone as patient 31 and they realized that the first 30 patients they had quarantined, the 31st person violated the quarantine. And then they have this all mapped out to show the impact that that one patient had in all of her interactions in all of these different places. That it really does show to personal responsibility and what the impact that one person has. Because if, you said it, that R0 value was three, you’re impacting potentially three people. And if each of those three people impact those three people, and I checked your math on it, you were right on those things.

Chuck Gose: But I think this is where people tend to, I don’t know if they’ve not missed the science of it, but how do we make this into layman’s terms so that they understand the impact, that they think about it from a communicator’s standpoint, how do they share like, this is why we’re asking people to now work from home.

Randy Sharma: I think that Governor DeWine in Ohio is doing this really great daily briefings. And one of the ways he put this was, the NCAA tournament and let’s say it’s supposed to be in town and they cancel it. So this 25-year-old kid goes to a sports bar that’s packed and he happens to get infected. He doesn’t know it. Younger people tend to not have as many symptoms if they have any symptoms at all. So then that kid decides to, he goes home, kisses with his girlfriend, a few days later, a week later she goes to see her grandmother. He could have, from going to a crowded bar, or a crowded environment, he could’ve given it to somebody else who then gave it to somebody else who gets really sick and possibly dies.

Randy Sharma: We have to start isolating people and eliminating our actual physical interactions in order to contain this because that’s how it’s going to be spread. That’s part of the guidelines, the basic ones are wash your hands, clean counters, and the social distancing, the six feet. The six feet has a reason. And even at workplaces, we’re doing it at our office right now. When somebody coughs or sneezes, we think that those respiratory particles that are spreading the infection go about six feet and they can linger around or about 10 minutes.

Randy Sharma: All these things play a role. And all of these things, all these measures that have been put in place and all the measures that are coming soon, are all playing a role. It doesn’t mean that it’s doom and gloom. It doesn’t mean that, oh, we have to stay home because it’s out there and it’s going to get us. It’s not the zombie apocalypse. It’s not aliens coming down. It’s we’re trying to restrict the spread of the virus because it’s spread easily and when we’re around other people, that’s how we spread it. That’s all there is to it.

Chuck Gose: And maybe this is speaking to a bit of your bedside manner that you have with your patients, but how would you recommend communicating severity without inducing panic?

Randy Sharma: Wow. What I’m really just telling people is we have to think about the fact that this is spreading easily and this is not a matter of, a lot of people are not going to get very sick from this, but what we’re really worried about, this one it spreads. When it does end up affecting somebody’s parents or grandparents, that’s going to be a problem. And if we can head that off right now, we need to.

Randy Sharma: And just even with that example I gave, if that spreads more quickly because people are in close confines, that significantly changes the entire, I don’t know, the rate that it grows and how quickly it grows. What I tell my staff, what I tell patients is, it’s not about you. It’s about everybody else. It’s about other people.

Randy Sharma: Now, the way that I’m trying to explain to people why we’re distancing or how to distance is we don’t have to freak out. Just act like you’re contagious and everybody else is contagious, but not in a bad way. Just kind of follow those guidelines, you know? But, we have to cut the head off the monster. And the way that we do that is we mandate that we have space between us and other people. That’s the only way that we really get this under control.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I saw a report over the weekend that talked about, just kind of using numbers, so people don’t always understand the scope and scale of things, that in the US, there are 100,000, roughly, ICU beds. And any given day, typically two thirds of those are already taken up by patients, so you only have about a third of those ICU beds left. That is really that strain on the healthcare system, which was speaking to your kind of flattening the curve. The healthcare system can manage it if those numbers are manageable.

Randy Sharma: Yeah. What we’re trying to do right now is, overall, the numbers are saying that they really expect at least 40% of Americans to eventually get infected with this, but what we can’t have is the spike that we would see if people were in crowded environments. We can’t see what happened in Italy where they took it for granted and then all of a sudden it exploded because there, now people, they don’t have enough ventilators. The doctors are having to make really tough decisions.

Randy Sharma: People will get sick and people will get very sick. Fortunately most people will not get that sick, but those people are also going to be able to spread it. So what we want to do is try and make sure that when people get infected, it’s kind of, this is probably a poor choice of words, but it’s like in an orderly manner or an orderly fashion so that everything doesn’t explode at once. That we kind of give, I don’t want to say give everybody their turn to get sick, but everybody that we don’t overwhelm the system, for sure.

Chuck Gose: And this virus is largely focused around the physical health of individuals, but I want to talk about the individual mental health of individuals because it is a stressful time and can be overwhelming to some or most, even if they don’t recognize it. It’s taking up a lot of mental space for a lot of us.

Randy Sharma: Absolutely. Sure.

Chuck Gose: What is this doing to the mental health of people and how should they be taking that into account in addition to their physical health?

Randy Sharma: It plays a big role. Right now, I’m getting so many messages every day from people. They’re just saying, I’m scared, I’m freaking out. I’m really nervous. What happens with anxiety and with stress, because it’s really the stress, is that overtime, when you immediately have a stressor, it might short-term help. It might boost the immune system a little bit if there’s like a fight or flight situation where your life was immediately in danger.

Randy Sharma: But over time, we’re talking over the course of hours, days and, in this case, particularly weeks and maybe months, that starts to weaken the immune system. You have elevated cortisol levels. There are also some decrease in the white blood cell counts. So that stress, it does have an impact on the immune system and unfortunately, this is an immune issue.

Randy Sharma: So that actually could make people more susceptible to getting infected if they’re in contact with it. But that’s also why I think it’s really important for people to, for us to try to educate people and make them understand why we’re taking these measures. Because again, I don’t want people freaking out and thinking that they’re going to die if they come in contact with this. But I think if they understand that what we’re doing is trying to slow the spread of this virus so that other people, the people that are at the highest risk, don’t get sick or don’t get infected, then they may understand this better.

Randy Sharma: The other thing that we need to make sure is happening is that they have an idea or an understanding because there are situations where people are getting, especially bartenders, servers in restaurants, are getting laid off or they know they’re not going to be making money.

Randy Sharma: The State of Ohio almost immediately started putting out some information on what the plan is. We have to make sure that people understand that, and this kind of goes back to something I’ve been saying all day as well, in different ways, we’re all in this together. This is affecting everybody in different ways, especially with finances. We’re all in this together. We will be taken care of. In the meantime, in the short term, we have to take care of each other. It’s paramount.

Chuck Gose: No, I agree with you and I think this is where technology can help us. People like to blame technology for all our problems, but this is a chance where technology can step up. So I saw, for example, today that in Italy they were able to 3D print parts or part of a ventilator that they needed. So, they were able to use technology to do that.

Chuck Gose: I was thinking through all of the new apps that are centered around mental health for people, whether it is talking to someone or even just how to meditate and give yourself that time, that I think it is a chance that people can use technology in new ways that maybe they didn’t have before.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, I think there are a couple things that we can do. With my work, they have set up some online groups that people can join. One of the other things that does affect the immune system is loneliness and depression as well. When you’re isolated or at least you feel isolated, that kind of plays into the loneliness. That might cause some depression. That can weaken the immune system as well.

Randy Sharma: My workplace, they have some online groups that they have set up so people can kind of interact and talk with their coworkers and their friends or people they may not know from work. I would suggest if that happens to have a moderator, that can make sure that it doesn’t turn into some sort of doom and gloom site where people are spreading this information or kind of bringing other people down, but doing that.

Randy Sharma: And also if your workplace has, a lot of big companies have, employee assistance programs or EAP programs. Sometimes they can do those through the phone, over the phone. And so if somebody is really struggling, that might not be a bad option is to encourage them to use that program because, as an employer, they’re paying for this anyways. They’re paying for that service anyways. And that’s something that somebody can do with no risks. They’re not going to be in direct contact with anybody. They can stay wherever they’re comfortable, in their house and get some counseling and have somebody kind of even teach them some of these meditation techniques or some mindfulness techniques.

Randy Sharma: Also, online exercise groups, doing online there’s some online yoga things that are happening right now. And yoga actually has been shown to help with the immune system, as well. So these are all things that we really need to think about how do we implement this.

Randy Sharma: And also really key is, in leadership not downplaying it, making sure that your employees understand that you feel them, that you understand why they’re concerned, but then also kind of calming them down and giving them some resources and just saying, hey, this is going to be temporary. This isn’t forever. It might be longer than we expect. But, again, we’e all in this together and we’ll get through.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, it’s interesting for me as someone who for the last eight plus years has worked from home/work remote, whichever term you want to use. And there’s a little bit of adjustment to get into it and now I enjoy it. And there’s pros and cons of both scenarios, but even this for me during this time feels a little bit different because of that sense of that added stress and the unknown and are you okay to do this or not do this? And the news changes not even by the day anymore, but sometimes by the hour of what’s happening.

Randy Sharma: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: So I do think it’s something that I would like to see companies and even managers of employees take really close attention to, to see how their employees are doing both from a work product standpoint but also just a personal wellbeing. And asking the question, are you okay? And if they say, yeah, sure. I say, no, no, no, really like, are you really okay?

Randy Sharma: Right.

Chuck Gose: Because there is a way to check in and do that.

Randy Sharma: Yeah, you do and you have to. I mean, for my work as a primary care provider, we’re trying to do our best to keep people, and this is kind of tricky unfortunately, I mean, there just aren’t enough testing kits out there right now. So, a lot of people are in a panic, understandably. They’re calling in or they’re sick and they want to get tested.

Randy Sharma: And most of these people, unless they have significant risk factors where they’ve been in an endemic area, they’re not going to qualify for testing because we really don’t have enough test kits in the state.

Randy Sharma: And in most cases, it might be a nice reminder like we have an immune system for a reason. Unless you’re having severe respiratory distress, you probably don’t need to be tested or unless or if you’ve been somewhere high risk or if you have significant risk factors. So, we’re trying to calm people down so we’re not going to have you come in. So people have mild respiratory symptoms. W’re actually doing the thing that we’ve been saying the whole time is, if you’re sick, stay at home.

Chuck Gose: Yep. I think what you shared there is great. Whether you are a leader of a practice or a leader of a company, to listen to your employees, to be calm, to be patient, to be sympathetic and empathetic of people’s situation, knowing the stress they are carrying personally plus this ever changing new cycle having that impact. So I think that is a good wrap up advice for any leaders out there to understand the role that you play, that your people will be looking to you for guidance, for reassurance, for information. So, this is your chance to be that. And let’s say you haven’t been that in the past, but this is your chance to be that now and in a very important time for the health of your employee, the health of your company, the country, and the rest of the world.

Randy Sharma: Yeah. And I’ll be honest, Chuck, with my podcast, we’d done a few episodes and we kind of took a little bit of a break and we were like, well, we need to get… There’s a whole bunch of things going on. But as soon as this started happening, I heard the concerns from the panic and that’s why we sat down and it was actually pretty great.

Randy Sharma: I reached out to the Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin and said, hey Shannon, can you sit down and can we just do a podcast? We didn’t even know what we were going to necessarily say but it was the day that they said that they announced the first round of the shutdowns and the schools were going on a three week spring break. We didn’t know for sure where the conversation was going to go, but it was kind of this whole we are leaders and we can give them the facts and we can tell them where things are going and we can reassure people.

Randy Sharma: And since then, me and Shannon have kind of worked in lockstep and make sure we know what’s going on so that if people ask and so I did an episode last night. I’m sure I’ll do another episode with Shannon soon as things change because there are other things that he knows more about with the city than I do. But I’m also going to do an episode about kind of the stress and the panic and how we can combat that because it is important for people to know that, but that’s how we lead. I mean for me it’s not just leading my team. I also have to be a guiding light for my patients and people that aren’t my patients that are in that same situation, they’re feeling upset.

Chuck Gose: Well, that’s a great plug. Everybody, go check out the Rock Doc Chronicles. You can find them wherever you listen to a podcast. Again, thank you, Randy. We give a shout out to Springboro, Ohio here. Great to have you on the podcast.

Randy Sharma: Yay, yay.

Chuck Gose: It’s funny to see our worlds kind of intertwined back then. Here we are coming back together very serendipitous at this time where we’re both kind of talking about the same things but from very different contexts, but all with the same mission going forward.

Randy Sharma: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I think it's really important to me that we do this right now and I appreciate you having me on.

Chuck Gose: Absolutely. Thanks again.

Randy Sharma: You’re welcome.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms & Cocktails on Apple podcast, Google play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comm served straight up. Thanks for listening.


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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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