Happy Labor Day!
I hope everyone is able to enjoy the day with family and friends on the last unofficial day of summer!
It is with a heavy heart that I write today. I learned yesterday that a friend passed away from Covid. His name was Keith Brown, and he was an EMT worker. He and the laughter we shared will be greatly missed, and he is a reminder of the many tragedies seen through this Covid pandemic.
When faced with what seems senseless, such as Keith's passing, I try to find explanations. So in my quest for understanding, I thought I'd share some recent data and news articles which may help you put some order into the Covid chaos. Covid has caused me great concern and worry for many reasons over the last 6 months, and I would guess that many of you feel the same.
But instead of succumbing to the fear, arming ourselves with knowledge, I believe, is the best remedy, so here I go!
With many schools starting tomorrow, I thought I'd focus my Covid report today on two recent news articles as well as government data that, in my opinion, which support the notion that children should return to school. The first is an article that appeared in the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/health/coronavirus-testing.html.
The article was actually brought to my attention by another blogger, Jay Williams. This article suggests that due to the properties of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test being used, as many as 90% of people with positive tests have/had such low levels of virus in their system that they are/were not contagious. This would explain why so many people with positive tests reported no symptoms. Also,I have not seen any confirmatory evidence of asymptomatic individuals spreading the virus.
This information would suggest that the lockdowns and prior school closing may have been unnecessary, especially in light of the evidence that children are largely unaffected by the virus. And the lockdowns undoubtedly contributed to the fear many of us have had. So as not to seem as though I am contradicting prior blogs, where I have explained the high false negative rates of Covid testing, let me explain. Not all tests that are on the market use PCR technology for the viral DNA.
There are also antigen and antibody tests on the market, and in fact, the antibody tests have high false negative rates). Also, the Covid test is fraught with operator error, ie not getting a deep enough swab or adequate sample, for instance, which can also contribute to false negative rates. So we are faced with these two realities...the many positive tests appear to have overestimated the severity of the disease, and the many false negative results suggest that the penetrance of Covid in our communities is much more widespread than suspected.
The next article appeared in The editorial section of The Wall Street Journal. The article emphasized the importance of returning to school and how testing the asymptomatic individual leads to unreasonable school closures. In the editorial, The Sweden experience was highlighted; Sweden never closed its schools for those under the age of 15. In that age group, which accounted for 1.8 million children, there were no childhood fatalities. Additionally, the incidence of infection among teachers was reportedly no different than the general population.
In South Carolina, we have seen ZERO deaths in children aged 5-19 since Covid data has been collected. And now let's now talk about the University of South Carolina experience. Numbers there are rising rapidly, accounting in large part for the state's spike in Covid cases over the last week.
For clarification, South Carolina's weekly Covid case numbers have remained pretty stable over the last 3 weeks but more of a decline was predicted by DHEC, hence my use of the work, "spike." But I cannot find any evidence of large spike in hospital utilization in Richland County, home to USC, and who knows how many of these college kids even have symptoms. In fact, hospital utilization numbers in the Midlands is down according to the DHEC website!
In my blog last week, I talked about USC and the rising numbers. Presumably, if testing is being done because of contact tracing, and not based on symptoms, spiking numbers are especially expected to occur. DHEC is sounding alarm, but can we really trust DHEC? Last week, I also highlighted an investigative report that revealed how DHEC has not been including all of the negative test reports across the state in its tally of the percent positive number. Since that time, I went back and looked at Roper's percent positive numbers.
This percent positive number, according to the "experts," should be 5% for the safe reopening of schools. Well, DHEC keeps reporting much higher rates. But Roper, who has maintained that DHEC did not require reporting of its negative results (contrary to what DHEC claims), has reported declining percent positive rates through August. In fact, last Monday Roper reported that its percent positive rate had been 5% for both the prior 7 and 14 days...exactly what we want to see. And I might add that many of the private schools opened in Charleston in August.
Schools need to reopen! I concur with the authors of the Wall St. Journal Op. Ed. We need to remember, that this is a virus that affects the elderly, infirm, and those with multiple medical problems. Recent data suggests that 96% of those who died from or with Covid had 2 other medical conditions. Since the reported deaths in the US related to Covid stands at 188,000, this would mean that 7500 people have died who did not have 2 other medical conditions. For perspective, the population of the US stands at 328.2 million.
As my friend Keith exemplifies, Covid can wreak havoc on certain individuals, causing a Cytokine storm from T cells that can be deadly. Every death is sad and Covid is serious. But before we let fear overtake us, we need to see if the fear is reasonable or not.
Cancer deaths in the US are certainly much higher, yet most of us continue to move forward with life and are not paralyzed by fears of developing cancer. Lately, I have witnessed the courageous strength if a young woman with who I work at the hospital, a mother of 2, who is fighting advanced stage 4 breast cancer. Yet millions of women never even bother to get their yearly mammograms. And due to Covid, people are ignoring other health concerns that are much more likely to take a life than Covid.
Schools need to obviously accommodate teachers and support staff who are at risk, but kids need to learn!
The consequences of not returning to school are much greater than the Covid risks. In fact, the CDC has recently reported that approximately 40% of adults are experiencing depression currently, and 25% of those aged 18-24 have considered suicide! The mental health implications are real, folks. I am seeing these emotional effects on my patient population. So when you consider people in this 18-24 age group almost universally recover from Covid, please let our kids go back to college! And don't forget, the flu and meningitis can be devastating for children and young adults, yet we send kids to school every year during flu season.
We do need to do a better job of developing policies to protect the elderly and those in nursing and long term care facilities, as we are failing these individuals miserably. I have heard of some appalling stories for these elderly individuals.
But a UCLA/Stanford study Friday claims that the risk of dying in the 50-64 age-group is 1 in 19.1 million. So let's not let our fears get the best of us, and let's enjoy the fall!