The very last thing our nation needs in the midst of the Wuhan Covid-19 pandemic is bureaucratic- speak from government officials. For the past four months the nation has been barraged with mind-numbing hyperbole from the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Just to be clear, Dr, Fauci is an incredibly well-trained physician, academician, virologist, public health expert and scientist. However, he is not someone on the front lines treating patients, unlike so many primary care physicians dealing directly with sick patients in their offices, hospitals and emergency rooms. He certainly understands the coronavirus’s biological structure intricacies, replication and spread, and interprets data models being put forth. To our knowledge, he is not seeing or examining patients, taking histories, or formulating differential diagnoses and treatment plans for individual patients. As Yuval Levin in The Wall Street Journal states: “Then technical experts advise government officials, they aren’t just conveying neutral facts…That’s what makes them useful—and also limits their value.”
His skill set is as an academician and researcher and not a clinician. His perspective may be a bit conservative and based on cold data, rather than the interactive experience gleaned by actually caring for patients. We have long felt the need for a clinician to be at Dr. Fauci’s side, giving a balanced perspective of what is truly going on with the patient care landscape with Covid-19. We would be necessarily informed by a more practical, humanistic understanding, not just statistical, with a touch of hope to how patients respond and what America and the world truly face.
The statistical models produced by different organizations have proven time and again to be inaccurate. The medical infrastructure in the United States cannot be compared to Italy, China or anywhere else in the world. America truly ranks at the top in the world through our hospitals, nurses and physicians. Let’s not be cavalier by any means, but let’s accentuate the positives we face and eliminate some of the fear perpetuated by half-truths and innuendos accentuated by the media.
What we HAVE learned is our focus needs to be on people over 65 years of age and those with underlying medical conditions. A high percentage of the deaths have occurred with the elderly in nursing homes and special care facilities. Dr. Fauci needs to sound an alarm about how appalling it is that our elderly population has to suffer yet again!
Here are some recent examples of Fauci-speak which make our point:
“Infections and hospitalizations are declining in some areas while spiking in others. We don’t have it completely under control.”
Opening the country back up “is just not going to happen because it’s such a highly transmissible virus. Even if we get better control over the summer months, it is likely that there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will eventually get back to us.”
Not following the guidelines, presents a “real risk that you will trigger an outbreak.”
Opening the nation and economy too soon may produce “needless suffering and death.”
By reopening too soon “You can almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward…that is my main concern.”
“In this case, the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far…even at top speed that we’re going, we don't see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school, this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe.”
What you don’t learn about the nay-saying Anthony Fauci is the fact that America has lived successfully through a number of viral epidemics over five decades. Certainly some people lost their lives, but medicine and the pharmaceutical industry have given us remarkable control over these scourges, and we have not sacrificed our nation’s economy in doing so. Even in years with minor influence outbreaks, tens of thousands of people die from pneumonia brought about by morbidity issues.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is an example. The CDC estimates that more than 1 million people in the U.S. are still living well with the virus; as many as 50,000 people become newly infected every year. HIV was first diagnosed in a San Francisco female sex-worker in 1977, who then gave birth to three children who were later diagnosed with AIDS. The children's blood was tested after their deaths and revealed an HIV infection. The mother died of AIDS in May 1987. People still contract HIV today, but through safe sexual practices and pharmaceutical discoveries, its prevalence and mortality rate have been reduced significantly. Pro basketball player Magic Johnson, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, pro football player Roy Simmons, pro soccer player Job Komol, actors like Charlie Sheen and Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo are living successfully with the disease.
There are a host of other viruses that have killed Americans (SARS, the Spanish Flue, Polio, etc.). Below is a short list of flue types:
—Type A flu viruses cause pandemic flu. A pandemic is the worldwide spread, in humans, of a flu virus to which most people have no natural immunity.
—Type A flu viruses are subtyped according to proteins on their surfaces. There are 16 different H proteins and nine different N proteins. All H and N proteins occur in birds.
—Human disease has traditionally been caused by three H subtypes — H1, H2, and H3 and more recently by new H subtypes — H5, H7, and H9 — from birds. It is feared that one of these subtypes will emerge as the next flu pandemic — particularly the H5N1 virus causing an unprecedented global epidemic among domestic and wild birds. Bird flu viruses come in two varieties: Low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) and High pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) — apparently limited to the H5 and H7 viruses.
We put this year’s flu pandemic into a hopefully more understandable perspective. In this year’s flu season, the CDC estimates between 39,000,000 to 56,000,000 cases and 6,180 deaths. It is interesting to note that in the past decade the CDC reports 3 worse flu seasons, 2017-19, 2014-15 and 2012-13. At this writing the CDC lists 62,515 total Covid-19 deaths. This is somewhat misleading since the agency lists any death where the patient tested positive for Covid-19, as a death from that virus whether it, or other morbidity issues were the cause.
Our COVID-19 statistics differ little from this year’s flu. Both Covid-19 and the flu hit smokers, the morbidly obese, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, hardest. By late this year or early next year we will probably have a vaccine, perhaps several. Right now, we need to open America, its full economic engine running with much less federal and media hyperbole.
Dr. Michael Howard is a retired physician who saw patients and their families for over 40 years and was a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville.
Loyd Pettegrew, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus at the University of South Florida specializing in health communication.