History has shown that there are critical times where the actions of individual citizens have the biggest impact on outcomes for the whole community and country. We are currently in one of those times. With new confirmed Covid 19 infections in our communities and rapid exponential growth of infection in Idaho, we have turned the corner and are no longer safe in our rural location. The only way to reliably keep our community safe and our economy healthy is to take basic, sensible and urgent individual actions to protect ourselves and others.
A recently published study shows that approximately 40 percent of the people infected with Covid 19 have no symptoms. This is a particularly dangerous aspect of Covid 19 because, despite the lack of symptoms, most of these people are contagious and are spreading virus to others. The problem is that a large portion of people in our local community have factors or conditions that place them at very high risk for severe illness or death from the virus. A study published this week showed that patients with common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are at very high risk for bad outcomes if infected with the coronavirus. Other factors and conditions shown to increase risk of poor outcomes include age over 60 years, obesity, cancer, sleep apnea and rheumatologic disorders. When we look at the population of Clearwater County and the surrounding areas, there is a large portion of our community that have at least one of these conditions that place them at high risk. Therefore, in order to protect our family, neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens, we need to act responsibly to protect them from the virus.
As mentioned, four out of every 10 patients who have the virus will have no symptoms whatsoever, but could easily pass infection on to others. Even those who have symptoms may be highly infectious prior to the onset of symptoms. We all need to show we care for our community through some basic actions: careful hand washing, wearing masks in public, physical distancing, avoidance of gatherings and staying home if sick.
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no “cure” for Covid 19. Although dexamethasone (a steroid medication) and remdesivir (an expensive antiviral medication) have been shown to reduce the severity of infection in hospitalized and critically ill individuals, they do not cure the infection. They also are only shown to benefit people sick enough to require hospitalization. Although there is a great effort to develop a vaccine, this is unlikely to be available until 2021 at the very earliest. Also, for a vaccine to impact the overall pandemic, a minimum of between 40 percent and 60 percent of the total population would need to be vaccinated. This will take time even once the vaccine is available. It may take years to achieve the level of vaccination and immunity necessary to stop the pandemic.
With all of the more advanced treatments and solutions to the pandemic so far away, we are left primarily with basic safety measures to protect our community and our loved ones. As outlined above, these include basic steps such as frequent hand washing, wearing a mask at all times when around others, physical distancing and avoiding moderate to large sized gatherings. Even for those people who personally do not view themselves at risk, if they care at all for those at-risk individuals in our community, this is a time to show strength of community and follow these basic health measures. Remember, those who wear masks in public are primarily doing it for the protection of others, not so much for themselves! We should be thankful that they care so much about our health to try and protect us.
The other ways we can stay healthy are to keep up with our usual steps for good health. We need to practice healthy habits and not delay needed care. It is estimated that a third of all excess deaths during the pandemic so far are due to conditions other than Covid. The reason for this is that people are putting off needed care due to fear of lack of access to that care. Please do not put off the usual care that you need to be healthy and do not ignore any concerning symptoms. We have taken great effort to ensure that the care at Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics and St Mary’s Hospital and Clinics is safe for you during this time. Do not let your fear block the care you need.
In summary, we are in a new phase of the pandemic as it reaches our formerly safe corner of Idaho. This requires new resolve, cooperation and vigilance. The basic public health tools are now our best defense at this critical moment.