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Actor Tom Hanks Talks COVID-19 at ASHP Midyear 2020

December 07, 2020

The ASHP Midyear 2020 meeting started today, December 7, 2020. Tom Johnson, PharmD, MBA, ASHP president, kicked off the session reviewing updates made this year.

“The theme of this year’s meeting is ‘unstoppable,’” he said, “and I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe our profession, our members, and our organization.”

“Pharmacists have been unstoppable and collectively stepping up to provide extraordinary leadership to meet patient care demands during a global pandemic.”

The special guest for the opening session was actor and producer, Tom Hanks. Mr Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson recently battled COVID-19 earlier this year in March 2020, and he took the time to discuss their experiences while in Australia.

Dr Johnson turned the conversation over to Dwayne Ballen, ASHP TV host, who led the conversation with Mr Hanks.

Mr Ballen started the conversation by checking in the health of Mr Hanks and his wife. Mr Hanks assured everyone that he and his wife are doing fine but were “beaten up by the virus for about 10 days after receiving positive tests.”

“It’s one thing to read about it, see it on the news, and hear about other people getting it,” Mr Hanks said. “When we began to both feel as though something was amiss, I didn’t anticipate it being COVID-19. You think you’re bullet proof.”

Mr Hanks went on to discuss his experience of being cared for in Australia. He explained that after receiving the positive tests, he and his wife were placed in an isolation ward where there were other positive patients. He continued to say that PPE was worn and that they overall “response to it was commanding.”

According to Mr Hanks, COVID-19 rates in Australia seem to be well-controlled, and there are lighter mask restrictions compared to those in the United States.

Mr Ballen said to Mr Hanks, “It seems like you developed an even greater appreciation for health care providers and those working closely on the frontlines.”

In response, Mr Hanks, “I do not understand how anybody can be as relatively cheerful as they are, and all day long be giving people swabs down their throats and up their noses in order to keep track of incredibly important stuff.”

Mr Hanks commended the doctors and nurses that cared for him and how well-prepared they were before they came in to check on their health status in fresh PPE. He expressed the dedication of these professionals and said that they are all experts in what they are doing but noted that they are stretched thin.

Mr Hanks said that the work these health care professionals are putting in has gone unappreciated. He said as they go on their rounds and continually give out the same information, while keeping up with contact tracing that was necessary, is full time work.

“I was asking them if they were getting enough sleep,” he said, “because there was always something they had to check up on, and that was only with the two of us.”

Next Mr Ballen asked what Mr Hanks would say to both people and pharmacists based on his experiences and how they should prepare themselves for what they may experience as we enter winter. Mr Ballen said that during this time pharmacists are going to deal with a very anxious and sometimes irritated nation.

Mr Hanks said, “I think that pharmacists now have to be psychologists. They have to talk people down. They have to talk people into and understanding that simple steps, when followed to a tee, is the way to getting through this and getting on with the next chapter of our lives.”

He stressed that pharmacists are going to have a great test ahead of them of their empathetic powers.

“I don’t understand how anybody can turn the wearing of a mask into the least you can do in order to combat the spread,” he stressed. “The wearing of a mask is as simple as obeying the speed limit in a car or using your turn signals.”  

Mr Hanks and Mr Ballen went on to continue to talk about how the movie production process has changed and how everyday life on set has changed. He said that in terms of audiences on shows such as Saturday Night Live, there’s only a fraction of the people there in terms of the audience and the crew. Additionally, he said crew members and staff members are getting tested twice a week, if not more.

He joked and said Castaway would have been the perfect COVID-19 movie to film.

“I don’t how many of you pharmacists out there have been to a movie recently, I know some places allow it, but no one is standing in long lines waiting. That ain’t happening,” he said. “No one has been to concerts, recently, or Broadway.”

Mr Hanks expressed the importance of being kind—especially during these times.

“Fred Rodgers said all the time—be kind be kind be kind,” he said. “I’m glad I was cast to go into the role of the man in the red sweater.

“At the end of the day, it’s good to talk,” he said.

Mr Hanks said that we need to get through this, and this too shall pass.

Julie Gould

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