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COVID-19: The New Normal : Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy

It’s almost a cliché to say that we live in challenging times. An unknown disease, COVID-19, a severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, invaded our world and now nothing is the same. Changes have come at lightning speeds. A few days to transform a semester’s worth of hands-on physical therapy education to remote learning. Human subject research abruptly stopped.

Physical therapists were redeployed to “proning teams,” converted to learn tele-health or possibly furloughed. Now we are slowly venturing out from our stay-at-home orders to some new normal. I am aware that by the time you read this, the world may yet again be a very different place.

Living in a part of the country that was a dense hotspot, where wearing a mask is just our new normal, I find it hard to grasp how anyone could have a problem with covering their face in public. We operate under the assumption that the next person you see could be an asymptomatic carrier. It’s not paranoid, just cautious. I can’t imagine how anyone could perceive mask wearing as an infringement on their personal freedom. Maybe, it’s because health professionals have been trained in reverse isolation, understanding that wearing a face mask protects their patients. More likely, I’m just the recipient of a tremendous public education campaign explaining that social distancing and wearing a mask signify a respect for human life and an acknowledgment that we must all participate in keeping each other safe from this disease.

In the beginning of this pandemic, when no one quite realized the infectious capacity of this virus in the general population, health professionals learned some tough lessons early on. At Columbia University Irving Medical Center, women who were entering the hospital to give birth were screened for COVID-19 symptoms and contacts. Unfortunately, 2 women who were completely asymptomatic and had not come in contact with any symptomatic individuals became symptomatic shortly after delivery, requiring admission to the intensive care unit and intubation.1 This surprising outcome exposed the entire health care team to COVID-19, resulting in a complete change in procedures by which all pregnant women were tested on admission and assumed to be positive.

Now the default mode is everyone is assumed positive for COVID-19 until otherwise indicated. I was speaking with a colleague who is a full-time outpatient orthopedic physical therapist who is just now starting to see patients again. He wears a surgical mask over an N-95 mask, gloves, and goggles. Potential patients are screened before being scheduled and, of course, provided with mask and gloves. For years, I have taught palpation skills to first-semester physical therapy students and always emphasize the importance of therapeutic touch as another means of communication with our patients. We build a rapport of confidence and trust partly through touch. If you are back to work full steam, you may be wearing masks and gloves all the time and so will patients and clients. As we cautiously tiptoe our way back into the world, we find how much the world and we have changed. As we must shield ourselves from each other, I wonder what we are conveying in wearing personal protective. I hope it signifies caring for others’ health and well-being as the new normal.

—Cynthia M. Chiarello, PT, PhD



1. Breslin N, Baptiste C, Gyamfi-Bannerman C, et al. COVID-19 infection among asymptomatic and symptomatic pregnant women: two weeks of confirmed presentations to an affiliated pair of New York City hospitals.

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