By Dan Pool
For the sake of brevity, I am combining several recent conversations and e-mail exchanges on the coronavirus, “I don’t see why we are shutting everything down. More people die of the flu and this may not even that bad. There are only a couple of confirmed cases here.”
I have sat through Zoom and teleconference meetings with our community leaders, taking notes and listening and here is a simple, brief re-cap of what local officials are hearing and saying and why they are asking us all to shelter-in-place.
The big concern being expressed, most notably by the CEO of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, is a surge of coronavirus cases projected over the next two weeks is more than the health system can handle. The fear is the number of patients would quickly increase to a point hospitals would not have beds, ventilators and staff to treat all the projected patients.
In New York, in Italy, and closer to home in Albany, Ga. this has happened. It’s not a rhetorical scenario. The cases shot up so quickly that hospitals ran out of resources. It may turn out that coronavirus deaths don’t surpass the flu. But if every one who died of the flu and those needing hospitalization, came in the same month, we have a similar problem.
Also with coronavirus, while some people only have mild symptoms, those who require hospitalization appear to require longer stays and more intensive care.
The point of the shut down/shelter-in-place is not to cure coronavirus, it is to slow the spread so that it is manageable and to reduce the total number of cases.
There is an underlying dread of how the public will react (should a worse case scenario happen) when people arrive at hospitals to find there is no room, equipment nor any qualified staff without their hands full. We’re not used to that kind of scenario in America.
A few other points:
• There are plenty of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic. While some are so far-fetched they are laughable, breathing air from a hair dryer does not heat your breath enough to kill the virus in your lungs. Please maintain some common sense. And even if you have a secret e-mail that Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton worked together creating coronavirus, it doesn’t change the fact that social distancing is the best way to defeat it.
• We aren’t protecting ourselves by social isolating, we are protecting the medically vulnerable and the unknown percentage of healthy people who are hit hard by the virus. You may be a tough guy and lick the shopping cart handles at Walmart and not even get a fever, but your elderly neighbor might pay the price a week later.
• Finally, a conversation that America may not be ready to have is ultimately the real issue, how much are we willing to sacrifice to potentially save lives? In my earlier conversation, one person who thought it was “all a bunch of bull” took pause when I replied ‘if you were in charge how many additional deaths would you accept to re-open everything?’ If the social distancing and shut downs, cuts fatal cases by a quarter, a half, three-quarters is it worth it? This is what the leaders at all levels are grappling with.
It’s hard to gauge the potential fatalities from coronavirus as without more testing earlier, we don’t know how many people contracted it and passed it on without calling in sick. So the best we have are educated estimates from those who are trained in national health. Some are pretty scary, some are indeed like a bad year of the flu.
Lacking those exact figures and with an unprecedented health crisis, it is prudent to take the precautions. Over-reaction is not a bad reaction here, especially if one of the deaths you prevent is that sweet Sunday School teacher, nice old man down the street, or that kid working the checkout line saving to go to college.