A highlight of the 2020 ICSOM conference was the session Health and Safety in the Workplace: Our New COVID-19 World, led by three professionals, each of whom brought an important perspective to the conversation, and moderated by ICSOM counsel Kevin Case.
Thanks to ICSOM Treasurer Michael Moore, the Governing Board became aware of Dr. Carlos del Rio’s work as a result of the presentation he gave last March to the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We are fortunate that del Rio accepted our invitation to be a panelist on this session of our conference regarding health and safety in the workplace. A professor and administrator at Emory University’s School of Medicine, del Rio is a recognized authority on infectious diseases and frequently appears on CNN to give expert opinions on these matters.
Recently Kevin Case brought the reputable work of Dr. Adam T Schwalje to the attention of ICSOM’s Governing Board. His study “Wind Musicians’ Risk Assessment in the Time of COVID-19” (co-authored by Dr. Henry T Hoffman, dated June 10, 2020) is available at our website. Being a wind player himself (Schwalje has a DMA in bassoon performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), he is acutely aware of the challenges faced by orchestral musicians as we seek answers regarding how to perform our jobs safely during COVID-19.
To complete the panel, ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow suggested the inclusion of Larry Rick, an infectious disease specialist with the United Nurses Association of CA/Union of Health Care Professionals. A physician assistant, Larry Rick has been a leader in infectious diseases at South Bay Kaiser Permanente for more than thirty years, specializing in the care of HIV, prevention of HIV and STDs, and all emerging infections including COVID-19. As an actively engaged union member and leader, Rick has assisted many local unions, including AFM Local 47, with the safety and protection of workers during our current global pandemic.
While all topics on the agenda for this year’s ICSOM conference were relevant to our current time, this session on health and safety was of utmost importance to ICSOM orchestras—more than 200 people attended this session, an ICSOM record. Reports show that Americans are at an extremely high risk for COVID-19. While the United States makes up just 4% of the world’s population, we currently have 428 COVID-19 deaths per million people (as compared to 4 deaths per million in New Zealand, and 5 deaths per million in Australia) (Note: see the Guardian, July 24, 2020). As we have seen media coverage of non-US orchestras returning to work, and with the eagerness of ICSOM musicians to do the same, we must proceed with caution and act in an educated and informed way.
The panel stressed the challenge of protecting against infection, as the conference attendees were highly interested in how to return to work safely. It is notable that the homes of the professionals who appeared on this panel span the country (Georgia, Iowa, and California), which led to keen observations from their personal perspectives. The scientific evidence and facts brought by del Rio and Schwalje with the practical advice brought by Rick struck a fine balance for this 90-minute session.
While creating a vaccine for COVID-19 is a priority of the medical community, the panel noted that an effective treatment of the disease would be an acceptable alternative. They cited the example of HIV for which, after four decades, there is still no vaccine, yet AIDS is treatable and manageable today.
The panel also stressed the importance of educating the younger generation. Rick cited the example of young staff members at his hospital who had caught the virus through careless social interaction outside of work. The virus had not spread within the medical group only because of all the precautions that had been taken.
ICSOM musicians may have adult children who have returned home due to the crisis. It just takes one person placing themselves in an unsafe situation (not observing social distancing, for example) to contract the disease and not show symptoms yet unfortunately pass COVID-19 to a parent who plays in an orchestra (and who in turn could infect their colleagues).
ICSOM is thankful that each presenter on this panel consented to having a video of this session available at our website. All ICSOM musicians are encouraged to take the time to view this important presentation with your families and loved ones.