The spread of COVID-19 virus is not only causing infection, but also panic and fear. We are reminded that we see this process every day in our work in palliative care as we accompany patients and families confronting similarly frightening news and uncertain outcomes. The skills that palliative care and all clinicians use at the bedside–listening, curiosity about what people are feeling, support for priority setting, and a calm presence–are the same skills we need to navigate this situation.

Because our patient population–those living with serious illness–are in the highest risk group for complications and death associated with COVID-19, they and their loved ones are not only particularly vulnerable but also particularly stressed by the current situation. We therefore urge everyone to convey essential guidance for older adults and those with serious illness. This includes avoiding crowds, cruises, airplanes, public surfaces like railings, and sick people. Frequent handwashing, cleansing of surfaces, and stocking up on a months’ worth of essential medicines, medical supplies, food, and household goods are encouraged. If our patients develop symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), they should stay home and call their primary treating clinician.

As always, remember to be present for one another as well as for our patients, listening and contributing as best we can to an atmosphere of professionalism and calm, focusing on our top priorities–the needs and concerns of the patients and families we serve.