Social distancing  and flattening the curve

Dr. Jaya Parker

 

Chief of Staff

 

Hermann Area District Hospital

 

In the past week, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. 

 

There are responses that can help: 1. Social Distancing 2. Flattening the Curve.

 

These terms are explained in detail on the CDC website, Facebook posts, and on the national news.  Here are some questions and concerns that I have heard from my co-workers and acquaintances in the Hermann area:

 

Q:  I (or my children) are young. Will the coronavirus not affect us, or we will have a very mild asymptomatic form of the illness?

 

You need to follow the same precautions with social distancing as all other age groups.   According to the CDC, four out or every ten hospitalized patients is under the age of 55.  Although few young people die, it can cause severe lung damage and may require a ventilator to keep you breathing.

 

Q:  If my child goes to her friend’s house, it’s just one other person so it’s not going to matter, right?

 

This is false. Each and every person matters. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Don’t take chances.  No precaution is too much.  Don’t play with this virus.

 

Q:  “This was my senior year” or “I just turned 21 and I’m going to party”, -- "It was only a few people.”

 

You might survive and not even exhibit symptoms while you spread the disease like a Typhoid Mary.  The people you infect may work with the elderly, as well as people who are already sick from other medical conditions.  Don’t say, “I don’t care if I burn down the neighborhood as long as my house is untouched.”

 

Q:  We live in Hermann (or surrounding areas), which is rural. So we are at low risk for spread.

 

This is false. There has already been a patient who tested positive in Franklin County. Several people have tested positive in Boone and Saint Louis counties.  We need to ramp up our precautions now. We have had very limited testing in this area, so we don’t know our true situation. Being in a rural area, the health-care/hospital system is not routinely or regularly equipped with an ICU or ventilation equipment, especially in numbers that may be required with COVID-19. At this time the country as a whole is at risk of a ventilator shortage. As a rural hospital, we are limited on the number of ventilators or critical care specialists that are available to the public. It is critical to create a time delay for use of ventilators, etc., by following the practice of social distancing.

 

To “flatten the curve” means to not create a peak of sick individuals all at once and thereby create more patients than the hospitals, ICUs, and ventilation equipment can handle.

 

Q: Some ask, “This is really not much different from the flu is it? Doesn’t influenza cause more deaths than the coronavirus? 

 

There are some similarities between the flu and COVID-19 -- such as being a viral illness, having respiratory symptoms, body aches, and a spread caused by respiratory droplets. But there are several really important differences. The death rate varies by age and even by location.  In people over 80, the death rate may go up by 15 to 20 percent.  There is no vaccine against it, nor anyone with resistance to it. There is no proven medication for it. Even though the risk to people with advanced age and underlying medical conditions is higher, coronavirus can cause severe acute ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome) in relatively healthy individuals. The syndrome is different from influenza, requires ventilation equipment, and can severely damage the lungs or kill.