There is a reason SARS-CoV-2 is called a novel corona virus. We’ve never seen it before and even the experts don’t know how it’s going to act. However, there are some things that experts, and reasonably informed people, agree upon:
- The virus isn’t going away.
- The virus is killing people.
- Not everyone is equally vulnerable.
Every day we see on our T.V. screens the current count on how many people are known to be infected and how many people are known to have died. As I write this today the numbers are frightening:
- There are nearly 11,000,000 Coronavirus cases worldwide and nearly 520,000 deaths.
- In the U.S., there are 2,781,085 cases reported and 130,813 deaths and both are increasing, not decreasing as they are in many other countries. According to the CDC, “The coronavirus is spreading too rapidly and too broadly for the U.S. to get it under control as some other countries have.”
I’m by no means an expert, but I do have a PhD in International Health, a Master’s degree in Social Work, and have been working in the field, specialized in gender-specific medicine and men’s health, for more than fifty years. I’ve been writing a series of articles that I hope have been helpful including:
- Deaths of Despair: The Other Covid-19 Crisis That is Killing Americans.
- If the Virus Could Talk What Would It Say?
- Covid-19: The Good News That Gets Lost in the Bad News Headlines.
As the country goes back and forth between opening up our lives and our economy and restricting our interactions with others in order to stay safe, we seem to be getting the worst of both worlds. We closed down to stay safe which took a huge toll on our personal, interpersonal, emotional, and economic health.
However, there was a lack of leadership from the Federal government, inadequate testing, contact tracing, and quarantining of those infected. As a result, as the country reopened, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths skyrocketed. We didn’t get the virus under control and now many areas are considering imposing restrictions again.
David L. Katz, M.D. is an impressive researcher and clinician. He is a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine & Public Health, the founder and former director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and Founder/President of the True Health Initiative.
He’s one of the experts I turn to in order to make sense of the confusion and misinformation that is so prevalent today. In a recent article, he said,
“I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say the United States has responded to the challenge of the COVID pandemic by doing nearly everything wrong. Federal guidance has been inconsistent and incoherent.”
Instead of a haphazard approach to reopening, Dr. Katz offers a plan for “total harm minimization.”
“We don’t need to stay in lockdown,” says Dr. Katz, “but the alternative cannot be “everybody in the water, never mind the riptides and whether or not you can swim.” Some of us can safely ride such waves; those who cannot should be protected from them.”
Dr. Katz concludes,
“The route to total harm minimization requires us to respect the virus, even as we recognize the quite variable risk it poses to different groups among us. We can counter the threat of waves of contagion by returning to the world in waves, responsive to that variable risk.”
Another expert I turn to, particularly when I want to understand what viruses do and how SARS-CoV-2 is likely to move through the human population, is Dr. Michael Osterholm. Dr. Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP).
In 2017, his book Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, was released. He detailed the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day and laid out a nine-point strategy on how to address them. The greatest threat, he believed, was a global flu pandemic and warned that humans were creating the ideal conditions for the next pandemic.
In The Deadliest Enemy he said:
“By venturing into the microbes’ homes deep in rain forests, for logging, planting, and hunting for bushmeat; by concentrating large number of people together; by breeding millions and millions of pigs and poultry and keeping them in close confines; by overusing and misusing antimicrobial drugs, we humans are forcing microbes to adapt to continual stresses and giving them opportunities nature never did.”
The one thing you need to know to stay alive and protect yourself is this: Viruses have been on the planet for 3.5 billion years. They are much more likely to survive and thrive than are human beings. If we want live long and well, we better learn from them and not try and bend nature to our will.
In my article, If the Virus Could Talk What Would It Say?, I imagined what the virus might say to us, if only we would listen. Since the virus can’t really talk to us, I listen to Dr. Osterholm. Here are some things he wants us to know about the realities of the virus.
- This virus is operating under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form bend itself to public policy. Right now, about 5% of the US population has been infected; although it’s higher in places like New York City and some urban areas, across the world it’s about 5%.
- A virus like this is transmitted by the respiratory route. “I call it the leaky bucket virus because if there’s one little crack somewhere, it will get out and will infect people,” Dr. Osterholm says.
- Though some countries and some areas within the U.S. are getting the virus under control temporarily, things are likely to get worse. “When you think about only 5% of this country’s been infected to date, and you understand the pain, the suffering, the death, and economic disruption that’s occurred with just 5%, then you can imagine what it’s going to take for us to get to 60 or 70%,” he warns.
- Until there is a vaccine that protects everyone in the world or until 60-70% of us have been infected, everyone is at risk of getting the virus, but most people are not going to become seriously ill.
- About 80% of people get a very mild illness and they recover uneventfully. Another 15% of people infected with coronavirus have more serious symptoms, and 5% develop life-threatening illness.
- If you’re over older, 50+, you’re male, if you have underlying heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or if you’re moderately to severely obese, then these are all risk factors for developing the disease.
- The majority of the young people we see who are getting seriously ill are overweight. “Among those people who we see having severe disease under age 55, obesity is the number one risk factor for COVID-19,” says Dr. Osterholm.
Here’s what I conclude from what Dr. Osterholm Dr. Katz are saying:
- The Covid-19 epidemic is going to go on for quite a while.
- If I’m going to survive and thrive, I have to take responsibility for my own health and well-being.
- All of those in the higher risk group, older people like me, those who are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have other risk factors–need to maintain physical distancing as much as we can.
- While the virus is still around, the one thing we can control is our own health and one of the most important things we can do is change what we eat and lose some weight.
Over 70 million adults in U.S. are obese (35 million men and 35 million women). 99 million are overweight (45 million women and 54 million men). The truth is any of us can die at any time from a variety of illnesses. Though older people are at higher risk, younger people are dying too. But, the majority of younger people who are dying have underlying health conditions, the major one is being overweight.
Another major risk factor is social isolation. Though we need to maintain physical distancing, we can, and must, increase our social connections. Fortunately, technologies from telephones, to text, and video, allow us to stay close to friends and family.
Being outside is safer than being inside, so walking can be healthful. Walking with others can be even better. And wearing a mask does not have to be a political statement. They save lives. If wearing a mask is uncomfortable, think of it, as I do, as adding a bit of resistance so that I increase the strength of my lungs as I interact with people. And we don’t need to get angry at those few who are not yet wearing masks. Simply send them some love and wish them well.
We will get through this, one way or another. How we do so is up to us. For me, I’m taking this as a time to practice care, compassion, and love—for myself and everyone else I encounter.
If you find these articles helpful, please leave a comment below. To read more, come visit my blog.
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