Ask the WGH medical team
The Times Observer asked the Warren General Hospital medical team to help us get information out to our readers through the COVID-19 FAQ-3. Regularly we will pose our questions, and your questions, to the experts. If you would like the Times Observer to submit a question to the WGH medical team, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward those questions.
Q: In all honesty, what does your medical team think will happen in Warren as we transition into the GREEN phase for Pennsylvania? Can we finally drop the masks?
A: We are very grateful that businesses have been able to reopen, as this is VITAL to our local economy.
So, what will be the result of going to GREEN?
1) First of all, no matter what we do in the next 6 months, we feel it is inevitable that we will see more COVID cases locally. Being 3 months into this and only having 3 cases county-wide is a real oddity from our perspective, (not that we are complaining!).
As things open up more & people travel more, it seems likely that the exposure risk and the number of cases will increase.
2) As new cases crop up, the key to preventing a large outbreak will be the tracing of those people who have been in close contact with an infected individual & their very prompt agreement to go into quarantine. This is done through the expertise of our state department of health.
3) According to the experts, this COVID-19 will not likely “fade away” when the weather changes. The seasonal flu fades by April; it is not thought that COVID-19 will follow suit. Even if we all stayed in the RED phase, this is thought to be true.
4) We think a large component of Warren County’s outcome is related to OUR RESPONSE to GOING GREEN.
¯ If we are diligent about following the recommendations of the infectious disease experts for prevention (handwashing, distancing, masking, avoiding crowds, etc), our new COVID case load might be held to a minimum.
¯ On the other hand, if we see the guidelines as too restrictive & choose to ignore them, risk might be increased….by a little bit or a lot.
So….we feel a significant part of our success in Going Green depends on our willingness to go along with the recommendations. Do those suggestions change? Yes, they frequently change as more is learned. This virus has never been dealt with before and there are many questions still awaiting answers.
As for MASKING…. You may say you’re not worried about getting COVID and therefore don’t need to wear a mask. But remember the saying, “My mask protects you and your mask protects me.” By wearing a face covering you may decrease your chances of becoming infected. But the MAIN REASON to wear a mask is to prevent spreading COVID from YOU to other people. Recall that at least 25% of people who get the infection have NO SYMPTOMS at first. So, you could pass the infection along without even feeling sick….and that person could be a frail grandparent who could die from this infection.
Let us RESPECT and SERVE each other with the wearing of masks, displaying COMMON SENSE & COMMON DECENCY.
Q: I’ve been hearing lots of people saying that COVID-19 is the same virus as seasonal flu & that more people die due to seasonal flu than COVID-19. Personally I know that both of these are false, but could WGH perhaps consider clarifying the differences?
A: Seasonal flu is caused by a strain of the influenza virus family, of which there are 2 types which cause human disease: influenza A & B, both being present locally this past flu season, which ended about 4-6 weeks ago. This hits primarily the respiratory system, with fever, cough, fatigue & body aches. A flu vaccine is developed months in advance of our flu season, picking the 3-4 most prevalent influenza strains expected to gradually migrate to the United States, hitting anywhere from November to March. Since the virus constantly changes, a different vaccine has to be made every year and it is variable in its effectiveness.
The coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is in a completely different family of viruses and this specific strain has not been encountered before. Our annual flu shots would not provide any protection against it. It seems to be 2-3 times more contagious than the usual flu strains and is also more deadly. About 1 out of 1,000 people infected with influenza die from it; with COVID-19, that number seems to average around 1 out of 100. The CDC reported in the year 2018-2019 there were approximately 34,200 deaths from the flu in the USA. For the current 2019-2020 year they are estimating 24,000-60,000 deaths from the flu in the USA. (These are laboratory confirmed deaths and the reporting “year” is for October through May.)
To date, COVID-19 deaths already exceed 100,000 in the U.S.
Q: I’ve heard of something called “herd immunity.” Will that work for COVID-19?
A: When we become infected with certain germs, we develop blood proteins called antibodies to help fight off those germs when we are exposed to them in the future. Once a certain percentage of the population has developed those antibodies, if the germ reappears in a community, it is much less likely to be spread from one to another, since many are immune to it. A vaccine can do the same thing without us having to get sick from the infection, like with diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, or polio.
It is not yet known if having antibodies for COVID-19 means that a person could not be re-infected. Plus, we have no vaccine yet for COVID. For herd immunity for this coronavirus, it is estimated that 60-70% of a population has to have the antibodies. To put that into numbers: using the lower threshold of 60%, that is 24,000 COVID cases for our Warren County population of 40,000. That’s a lot of illness! Plus, at a 1% death rate, that’s 240 residents dying with it. So, to answer the question…..Yes, from getting the infection, herd immunity would indeed work….but the cost is too great! Waiting for the vaccine is a much better option. Unfortunately, this is months if not years away.
This is why it is so important to continue using the methods known to prevent spread – hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding large crowds and staying home if you are sick. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we can relax some of these restrictions. But for now, they are crucial to quelling the spread of COVID-19.