Local Spotlight: Medical Professionals Share Observations of COVID-19 Pandemic

Everyone has been affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Most people have been taking extra precautions when they have to go out, and avoiding going out at all when possible. Many have also been laid off from work.

However, there are still many people who have to keep working, providing essential services to the community, and among those are medical professionals in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and so on.

Recently, two of those professionals agreed to sit down with GANT News and talk about their experiences and observations.

In order to protect their privacy and allow them to continue to work effectively, they requested that their real names and profession-specific details not be disclosed in this article.

Mary and Fred have been colleagues in the healthcare industry in Clearfield County for many years, having lived and worked in the area.

Fred has also had the opportunity to work in different areas and under varying circumstances outside of Pennsylvania.

One of the first things mentioned by both is seeing a substantial uptick in depression and anxiety. Mary noted that reports of domestic violence have doubled and while they couldn’t say specifically what the numbers are, they are aware that suicides rates are also up.

“All day they’re inundated with information,” Mary said, noting that the 24-hour news channels have constant coverage as well as social media and other Internet platforms. After a while, she said the constant information overload has an overwhelming and negative effect, “COVID fatigue.”

Another thing they are seeing is “lots of inconsistencies” in information, testing and treatment. They said one example was of a woman who was admitted to the hospital after testing positive, and then four days later she tested negative for COVID-19.

Fred noted that there are several tests, and the procedures to do them are different and those giving the tests can make errors.

And while many people are keeping tabs on the list of symptoms, both Fred and Mary noted that someone with the coronavirus may never show symptoms. For example, 50 percent of those testing positive do not have a fever.

“We do need to develop ‘herd immunity’,” Mary said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, herd immunity occurs, “when most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or herd immunity (also called herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease.”

The Web site cites examples of mumps, measles and chickenpox, where a combination of vaccines and those immune because they already had the disease created an immunity.

However, “We sometimes see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities with lower vaccine coverage because they don’t have herd protection. (The 2019 measles outbreak at Disneyland is an example.),” the Johns Hopkins information states.

Fred agreed with the assessment, saying that the current state of affairs can’t work long-term. “The immune system needs to be challenged,” he said. “It needs to work to work.”

He said that people have become too protective of themselves and their children and that if they’d allow themself to occasionally get sick with more minor ailments, this would help the immune system to build strength and fight off more serious illnesses.

They also raised the question of why the people they expect to have the disease don’t get it, especially with the demographics of the local area, and why many people who show multiple symptoms and are sent to Penn Highlands Healthcare facilities for testing are not ultimately tested and sent home.

Fred recalled working with tuberculosis patients at one time in his career. He said he never got the disease although he worked with them every day because it isn’t easily transmitted, and he said he is seeing similar reactions with coronavirus, that it is more likely to spread with groups close together, such as family members.

It was pointed out that reports of coronavirus in the area do not indicate how many of those have recovered and how many simply tested positive for antibodies and not the actual disease. “Don’t believe the numbers,” Mary cautioned.

They also talked about the precautions put in place and said there are advantages and disadvantages.

Telemedicine hasn’t worked as well as some people hoped. Fred said he spends much of the time helping the patient get connected, and Mary added that there is a real advantage to being able to touch the patient, listen to their heart and breathing and watch how they move that you can’t get through a telephone or computer.

It was noted that many people have been putting off much-needed routine medical appointments, and telemedicine has allowed those appointments to be met.

There are also concerns with far-reaching effects and both have grave concerns with shutting down businesses and schools. Fred noted that the economy cannot sustain long-term suspension. And they both referred back to the concept of herd immunity.

Fred explained how even the hopes of a vaccine might be in vain. He said many viruses never have vaccines because of the nature of the disease, noting that the common cold is one of those where there are too many varieties for a vaccine to be effective, and even influenza vaccines have limited use.

So far during this cold and flu season, more people have died from the flu than coronavirus, he said, and that of course, there are those who are at a higher risk than others, and those people should take extra precautions all the time.

If immunity is increased, it would slow the progression of the disease more than anything else, he added.

“Remember what you learned in Kindergarten,” Mary said. “Wash your hands. Cover your cough and sneezes. Keep your hands to yourself and give people space.”

She noted that the worst instances of the disease are occurring in places where there are lots of people with limited space and who also live where there is lots of international traffic, such as near major international airports and port cities.

Those are the places where outbreaks usually occur and the worst numbers are found, she said, and those places are where the strongest precautions need to be taken.

“Fear is an awful thing to live with,” Fred concluded. “We need to find balance.” He said people need to maintain caution, wash their hands, wear masks when they feel it is necessary, but they also need to live their lives. “Some things are bigger than we are.”

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