Archive for March, 2020

COVID-19

March 25th, 2020

This is getting serious

When I was still running a hospital in 2008, the H1N1 virus was beginning to get a foothold internationally. We had numerous workshops and meetings regarding this potential plague, and the impact it could have on our region. It was a very sobering time, but nothing like what we’re experiencing now.

One of our research scientists had begun to dig into the history of the 1918 flu, and the results of his work were beyond eye-opening. My internal expert told me of the mass graves in the Central City area where roads are still not permitted to be built, and the outcries from undertakers because they had been prohibited from servicing the dead.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was also caused by an H1N1 virus, and that pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, but its most chilling trait was the high death rate it caused in healthy adults.

Because I was informed by our Windber scientists, by expert epidemiologists from the academic universities, and by state health department officials, our preparation for a pandemic was very real, and I began loudly beating warning drums.

We jumped on preparation as if it were truly going to be life and death for many. As it turned out, this viral attack was contained in a very efficient manner, and although from April 2009 to November 2009, 3,900 people did die in the U.S. from H1N1, that was 1,000 less deaths than have occurred in the past few weeks in Italy which is more than five times smaller than the United States.

When I heard the “Don’t worry. Be happy,” spin that was initially coming from several news shows and the national press conferences downplaying this disease that was definitely coming our way, my blood ran cold. What if they were wrong? This was potentially a life and death scenario that was being pushed aside like a regular flu.

Then the numbers started coming in from places like China, South Korea and other Asian countries, and I knew it was beyond real. My scientific friends confirmed the potential lethality of this virus that was jumping into humans, and we had no known ability to stop it or fight it off and no chance for a vaccine for at least a year or 18 months.

This bat-based flu is a form of another disease; it is actually SARS-2. The Chinese shared RNA and DNA information as well as the general medical records of those infected with the world almost immediately. That information gave us a head start on vaccine discovery. Had we had the sophisticated infrastructure in place that existed pre-H1N1, this information might have already saved thousands of lives, but now is not a time for blame or finger pointing.

Consequently, today we have senators and representatives, celebrities, and loved ones suffering from COVID-19, all non-essential businesses are shut down, and our government still hasn’t made a decision that will help those suffering both physically and economically. Plus, we are still way behind the curve on NP-95 face masks, ventilators, gowns, COVID-19 tests or ICU beds to care for the sick, and we’re three months into this plague. Could we have been more aggressive?

Do I have the answers? No, but Russia has controlled it. Shanghai and South Korea have controlled it, and we have not. My advice? Believe in science, pray, keep a safe distance, and hope you don’t become a statistic.

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