Breaking Through COVID

Are we tired of COVID? Yes, indeed, we are.
   
But, the worldwide pandemic continues. There is hardly any part of our current lives that is not affected by this health issue. My life as a doctor has certainly taken on a wholly different scope during the past soon-to-be two years.
We strongly advocate getting folks vaccinated. Our local experience is the same as reported internationally. Vaccines do work, not perfectly, and vaccines do sharply reduce the number of folks who have a severe case of COVID. Yes, we had hoped that the vaccines plus recovered patients’ natural immunity would get us to where there would be very few patients who become ill enough to require more than simple care.
   
As we all know, the current “Delta” variant is much more infectious, resulting in a high number of severely ill patients who fill our hospitals and who require long and intensive care with an unfortunately high death rate as well as large numbers who experience long COVID impairments.
   
Our community is currently being overwhelmed with patients who have this disease. I have cared for patients whose whole families got ill. Some have long admissions including pneumonia, blood clots in the lung, and inflammation of brain cells with mental sluggishness. I have had patients and friends who have died of complications. I have also cared for patients who have not required admission but have gotten serious impairments to their health despite not being in hospital. The pandemic is very real – very real in my practice. I suspect you, too, have either had a personal experience or know someone who has by now.
   
Those of us who have undertaken the best preventive strategy—that of getting fully vaccinated—may still acquire breakthrough infections.  When that happens, the infections almost always wind up being annoying but not severe. I, personally, have experienced this. It was a mild illness of 3-4 days of fatigue, head congestion and achiness. I am an old guy, have some heart issues and maybe would not be able to write this piece but for the vaccine! [Oh, I also know that I got this infection because I did not follow my own rules of masking indoors in a group with someone who did not know he had the virus.]
   
Outpatient medical care has improved with the development of monoclonal antibodies. These reduce considerably the number of patients who require hospital care. They work only when given in the first few days of COVID. So, if you suspect, or someone you know suspects that you have COVID, please get tested promptly and ask if you are able to get them. Other treatments for this illness have limited merit, but do connect with your doctor or other care provider and discuss your options.
   
We are likely going to have to cope with this illness for some time to come. Sadly, our community has not come together in following the best strategy to cope with this plague. Earlier questions regarding vaccine safety and the effectiveness of public health measures are now better understood. The standard we need to aim for is “best available evidence” and being ready to change course when new evidence shows the way. But we will not succeed by ignoring the evidence and dissolving into criticisms.
   
Our “best currently available evidence” leads us to the following recommendations:
• Get fully vaccinated, and stay current with a booster shot, especially now with respect to the Delta and Omicron variants.  Vaccines are our best defense in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Severe vaccine side effects are unusual.
• Wear a good quality mask. Cover your NOSE and mouth whenever you are indoors with anyone including after a group has exited the room. Masks help you prevent getting an infection. If you happen to be infected, they limit the virus particles that escape into the air.
• Use good personal hygiene. Hand washing, cleaning common surfaces, and proper spacing can help reduce the spread of the virus.
• Practice healthy habits. Exercise daily, eat healthy balanced meals, get adequate sleep, take time for yourself and the ones you love, stay connected with family and friends, and please seek help for mental health issues.
• If you have or suspect you have COVID, immediately stay away from others (quarantine), contact your healthcare provider and get tested for COVID.
   
As we continue to navigate this challenging time, it is critical to take care of ourselves and each other. Each day we learn new lessons from this global pandemic, which will continue to prepare us for a healthier and brighter path ahead. As a community, standing together against COVID continues to make us stronger, smarter, kinder, safer and possibly more compassionate towards one another.

There is always HOPE. We can do this!

Jim Redka, MD, a family physician practicing with FPC Cornerstone and past president of the Lycoming County Medical Society, wrote this message in collaboration with Beth McMahon, PhD, emerita professor, Lock Haven University, where she led the COVID-19 Institutional Response Team from 2019 – 2021.
Published: 12/18/21

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