By Dr. Grady Goodwin, Medical Director, CC Young Senior Living ~
As the concern over Coronavirus has grown in the United States, I’ve received numerous questions from patients and family members asking whether our country has over-reacted to this disease. Mostly, they’ve wanted to know whether the pandemic is as serious as the news would suggest. Given the impact this has had on society and the global economy, it is a fair question.
The spread of this disease has sadly become a historic event, the likes we’ve not experienced in more than a century. I’ve seen many reports comparing Coronavirus to Influenza, but it’s essential to recognize that what we’re now facing is an infinitely bigger problem than the flu. Coronavirus is more contagious than flu, and current data suggests it is more deadly. Mortality rates are highest for those over 65 and particularly alarming for those over 80. Because of this fact, there is much concern for those living in senior communities.
One of the more problematic traits of the Coronavirus is it’s “incubation period.” When patients contract influenza, they develop symptoms in 2 days on average – at which time they either get tested or quarantine themselves to keep others from getting sick. With Coronavirus, however, symptoms usually take at least five days to develop but can occur up to 14 days after exposure. The result is that many people are walking around and transmitting the virus to others before they even realize they have it themselves. This is why the disease has spread so quickly.
To effectively manage the spread of infection with these characteristics requires two things – an ability to identify those who have contracted the illness quickly, and the means of protecting those around them. To this point, we have fallen short in both respects. We still do not have widely available rapid testing, and there remains a global shortage of protective equipment. As such, our primary weapon in this fight is prevention.
Evidence from around the world has shown that distancing and isolating those with symptoms or possible exposure, are the best way to curb Coronavirus spread in the setting of limited resources. So despite the frustration and boredom we are experiencing, we should all resolve to abide by federal, state, and local mandates concerning social distancing. Even if you aren’t worried about yourselves, failure to make an effort here could very easily end up hurting those around you.
There is still much uncertainty about how this will play out in the next few months. Scientists hope that warm weather on our horizon will suppress the spread of Coronavirus, but everyone is merely guessing as to what extent. One primary objective of our current distancing strategy is to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by a surge of patients all needing care at the same time. You’ve likely heard this referred to in the news as “flattening the curve.” In the long run, though, many (if not most) of us will be exposed to this virus. While precautions may be relaxed in some weeks or months, there will almost certainly be subsequent waves of illness related to the increase in interpersonal contact. But our hope and expectation are that each wave will be progressively less severe, and less costly.
Now for the good news. This crisis will end at some point.
We will eventually have the adequate testing capability and protective equipment. There will ultimately be a vaccine, and likely several medications used to lessen the severity of Coronavirus for those who get it. And as more people are exposed, humans will develop natural immunity to this virus (so-called “herd immunity”), which we hope will lead to a dramatic reduction in mortality statistics going forward.
So are we over-reacting to this pandemic? My answer is “no.” Hindsight may prove me wrong, but the devastating clinical outcomes we’ve seen in other areas (Italy, Spain, China, New York) suggests to me that we cannot be too cautious.
I’ve heard it argued that we should relax restrictions for the sake of our economy, but I struggle to see how the economy will benefit from allowing more people to fall ill in a short period of time.
These are entirely uncharted waters for everyone involved. Policymakers and scientists are being pressed for tough decisions, and they have imperfect data with which to make them. But we live in the greatest country on earth, and I believe we will see the best of it in the next few months. Things will likely continue to escalate in the short-term, but I do not doubt that we will get through this if we use our heads and prioritize our concern for one another.