By ROB LAMBERTS, MD (3)
So this is what we are hearing:
- COVID-19 is a serious crisis and you need to keep away from people and stay at home.
- Things are better and we are re-opening restaurants, stores, churches, and hair salons.
- The death tolls are an underestimate.
- The death tolls are exaggerated.
- No need to wear masks, as they don’t help.
- You should wear a mask.
- 100,000 Americans will die.
- Make that 50,000.
- The virus doesn’t spread through the air easily.
- Simply being near someone who is talking can give you the virus.
- Young people are basically immune from serious infection.
- Anyone can die from it.
- Hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax will cure it.
- No, those don’t work.
- A vaccine is in development.
- A vaccine might not be available until late 2021, and it might not work great.
You get my point. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating. It’s like the old joke about the weather: if you don’t like the weather here, just wait 5 minutes. So if you hear something that bothers you, just wait 5 minutes and you’ll hear the opposite opinion about COVID-19. Why is this? Why can’t we agree? Why are facts being replaced by opinions?
The Nature of Science
The first thing I want to sayis that the nature of science is to get things wrong a lot in the path to getting things right. Contrary to popular perception, science is not about finding one answer and sticking with it because it is “true.” No, science is about gathering data through observation and experimentation and coming up with the best explanation for that data. More data often means that old explanations don’t float any more, but that’s OK because eventually, over time, we get things more and more right and come to a (hopefully) more truthful and useful answer.
6 months ago we knew almost nothing about this virus. 3 months ago, most of us were more concerned about fires in Australia, about all the rain we were getting, and about the Astros cheating. Yes, people were sounding the alarm about the seriousness of the virus, but few foresaw what ended up happening. Nobody was pushing for a vaccine 6 months ago, nobody was looking for medications to treat this disease. Nobody was storing away masks or making emergency plans for ventilators.
So most of the scientific community (as well as the politicians and other policy-makers) had to start from scratch. The problem is, there was a world of anxious people hungry for “expert” opinions on the disease, looking for “the truth” about this scary virus. But nobody knew what was going on back then, and even now there is so much we still don’t know. This leads to my second important point: don’t believe any expert who makes grand claims of “cures” or acts like they have things figured out. The best experts will simply tell you what we think is going on based on the current data, but will understand that they may be wrong. This is a very hard problem and it will take the whole scientific community across the world to find solutions.
Unfortunately we are all being impatient with a process that takes time and patience to come to meaningful answers. We are all impatient because our lives have been overturned, people are dying, and the economy is going into a bad recession while the slow act of science plays out before our eyes. This is not Star Trek where a planet in crisis will come to a peaceful solution by the end of the hour.
The good news is that the resources being thrown at this problem (in both money and human effort) are more than have ever been put toward a problem. We will likely get a vaccine in record time (it usually takes 5-10 years to make one) because there are so many researchers working so hard to find the answer. Before then, we will likely find some drugs that will kill or disable the virus, significantly lowering the risk for those who get infected. But again, all of this will happen with great cooperation and collaboration between scientists all over the world.
Please plug your ears to anyone who makes this problem and its solution seem simple or straightforward. Please don’t post “experts” who act like they are a “voice in the wilderness” going against the medical establishment with the answer nobody knows about. These may sound reasonable, when you first listen to them, but they are like the false prophets of the Old Testament who told the kings what they wanted to hear, avoiding the truth.
So what is the Truth?
The truth is, we have never been through anything like this and everyone is trying to figure out the best path to get us back to normal.
- More than 14,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in the past 7 days (nearly five times the death toll of 9/11).
- The rate of new cases and deaths has seemed to have leveled off over the past 2 weeks (but has not started to decline).
- We don’t know if this flattening out is because of the “stay at home order.” We might find this out after these restrictions are eased in the coming weeks. I personally think that easing the restrictions are premature and will very possibly result in a huge spikes in cases/deaths. I hope I am wrong.
- Hospitals in bad areas have been overwhelmed, but much of the country (including Augusta) have been able to keep up with the case load and give care to those who need it.
- Coronaviruses don’t seem to be like flu, which become less prevalent during hot summer months.
- There are probably a lot of people with antibodies to COVID-19 who never had symptoms. Tests for this are becoming available, but there are many of sketchy reliability, so we have not ordered tests yet, and will only do so from reliable vendors.
- The hydroxychloroquine hype seems to have been misplaced, as the studies coming out are not encouraging. Still, scientists have some promising leads on other antiviral treatments, and this drug will continue to be studied.
I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know when businesses should open up, when I’ll eat at a restaurant, when I’ll go to church again, when I’ll have dinner with friends. But our forefathers have gone through much more difficult things than we are going through. I can chat with friends and family over Zoom. I can order food delivered to my house. I can see my patients via video chat and text messaging. We have it far, far easier than people in previous pandemics, wars, and civil crises. For those who are young and healthy and feel that they are not at risk, I ask you to stop being selfish and do your civic duty. Make sacrifices to save the lives of others.
I am blessed to have a job where I can make a difference and even save people’s lives. Now is your chance. It’s not sexy to stay at home and avoid spreading a virus, but it is your chance to make a difference, to save lives. Be patient. Be strong. Do the right thing.