Dr. Charles Hurbis

Regardless of your profession, carpenter, plumber, nurse, lawyer, etc., you have at your disposal a unique toolbox which allows you to apply your skills to solve specific problems. Over time, everyone’s toolbox becomes more complex and therefore useful through technical advancements. Additionally, one’s ability to use their tools improves with experience. 

Take the roofer; How much more efficient have they become since the invention of the nail gun? Yet the nail gun without a pneumatic source is pretty useless. The same philosophy can be applied to car safety. Back in the 60s, a lap belt was all the protection we had. Over time, we developed the shoulder harness, side impact protection, extensive crumple zones and airbags front and side. They’ve also added electronic enhancements for improved braking, car stability and now sensors for crash-avoidance. With all of these advancements, crashes are still not totally avoidable, yet they are far less likely and MUCH more survivable. 

A patient goes in to see his/her doctor with the hope that their problem can be solved. The doctor approaches the issue calling on their own personal experience. They then apply the tools available to them to formulate a solution. The country’s foremost expert on diabetes may still be able to help you control your blood sugars, but can do much more with access to insulin.  This is exactly where we are in this pandemic. We have a tremendous toolbox developed through almost two years of experience with the virus, yet people individually and collectively cannot agree on applying what we have available. Therefore, COVID is not only festering, but thriving and evolving.

Here is how we are mismanaging the pandemic. Imagine a house with an extremely leaky roof and the rainy season is fast approaching. The roofer has the tools and skills he needs to get a new roof on in just enough time to prevent severe damage to the home. He completes half his project, but then is so satisfied with his progress he decides to save on power and tosses the nail gun, leaving him with just a hammer to complete the second half. Well, you know how this ends. 

We have the experience and the tools available to curtail the advancement of this pandemic. Yet, it seems the slightest bit of progress allows us to ignore the monsoon approaching, forget what we’re dealing with and turn a blind eye to where we’ve been. There are so many examples. Take Australia, once a shining example of the success of shutdowns, social distancing and masking. They put a kibosh on COVID early in the pandemic. This success though was met with complacency regarding the vaccine, with only 8% of the population bothering to get vaccinated. Then along comes Delta being far more contagious. They are now losing to COVID for the first time, and badly. 

In many parts of the U.S., it’s a combination of factors leading to the resurgence: 1) We have many geographic areas where vaccinations hugely lag, being far under the 50% level, and 2) Early on, many areas decided to pull mask mandates and social separation guidelines. Even now, there are governors who still refuse to enforce masking, and some won’t even require masking in schools. This is just sheer lunacy. 

Oregon, once a shining example of control, dropped social separation and masking mandates early. Now, we have become a COVID frontrunner. It seems every time we make a little progress, we forget we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Pandemics occur because of very bad pathogens. Funny how quickly they are forgotten. 

One of the issues with controlling COVID is that most people have a mild form of this disease.  This brings the mindset of, “well, if I get infected, I’ll probably be fine.” This is likely true, but not for the 10% who will suffer the severe repercussions of long COVID and the 2% who will ultimately die. It’s a game of Russian Roulette. In life, no one would voluntarily sit in a circle and play Russian Roulette, yet that’s exactly what they are doing. In this game, the revolver has 50 chambers, only one with a bullet. The odds don’t seem that bad. The problem with this new game is that they are also pointing the pistol at others, including children. Let’s say we allow COVID to continue to evolve badly, and eventually there are now 20 bullets in this revolver (with Ebola it would be 50).  Now the healthcare industry has no possible way of caring for those needing assistance. People would be dying in the streets. I think then you’d see a lot of vaccinating and masks being worn then. Why must it reach that point? 

Another reason we are losing is we have the wrong focus. Here’s a headline from last week, “Biden’s new vaccine push is a fight for the U.S. economy.” How about, “is a fight to save lives”?  Since when has the dollar outvalued human life? Apparently, we’ll do anything we need to to save the economy. This misdirected mentality put us right into the crosshairs of Delta and whatever might be next. Is a dollar really more important than Mom or Aunt Sally? Yet, somehow, they are expendable as long as I can get a good paying job, buy the next iPhone 26 and have dinner at Chuck E. Cheese without masking.

Beware trendy or unproven treatments. Even though many of these may prove to have value, improper use can be life threatening. One example is the ever popular ivermectin. This is a drug used primarily treat parasitic infections in large animals. It has utility in humans in certain situations. But all it takes is one Facebook post touting the wonders of this drug and people are headed to the local Grange, buying products intended for an 800-pound bull and then ending up in the ER with encephalopathic seizures. Once new treatments are approved, go to your doctor for advice and a proper prescription. Don’t self-treat based on social media.

So, what does work? Well, clearly social separation is a no brainer. If you don’t contact the virus, you can’t get it.

What about masking? One of the arguments often heard is that masks don’t work. I have trouble fathoming this thought. I guess I’ve worn a mask for 36 years as a doctor for nothing. In all fairness, there really haven’t been studies out there showing effectiveness against COVID, until now. A recent study of close to a half million spread across 600 villages in Bangladesh now provides conclusive, real world evidence that mask wearing has a significant impact on curtailing the spread of the COVID virus. Certainly, not all masks are created equally, and all need to be worn properly (the under your nose technique is useless). In reality, N-95’s are the gold standard but most are uncomfortable. Still, close to N-95 levels of protection can be had by doubling more comfortable options. To achieve this, the mask requires a nasal contouring insert mold across your nose and needs to fit snuggly around the face. If we’d all been wearing these from the beginning, the pandemic would already be over.

Vaccines are a bit more complex due to the variety available, schedules recommended, everyone’s individual response to immunization and new viral mutations of which Delta is currently the most troublesome. That being said, any vaccination protocol will provide a level of protection making the virus less transmissible and less dangerous, including the Delta variant. Here are a few interesting facts: If unvaccinated you are 5x more likely to get COVID, have a 29x higher chance of severe disease or hospitalization, and finally you will have an 11x greater chance of dying. The simple math here indicates that without a vaccine your chance of dying of COVID is 55x (or 5500%) higher. Re-play that statistic in your head. 

Because we’ve let COVID evolve, boosters are already being recommended for everyone at 6-8 months. Now there is a new MU variant, already present in 49 states which is potentially resistant to all vaccines. This variant currently makes up less than 1% of all cases, but then, Delta also started that way. How this one evolves is clearly our choice.

Back to the car safety analogy. There are multiple layers of safety built into modern vehicles. How many would consider ever driving a car without their seatbelt? That would seem to almost everyone foolhardy. How many have been “lucky” simply because antilock brakes were developed? Seatbelts decrease the risk of serious injury and death by 50%, the airbag by 32%. Those that go unvaccinated are turning off the airbag, those going maskless are undoing their seatbelt (interestingly though, back when seatbelt laws were first enacted, people were cutting them out of their new cars, so idiocy is nothing new). When you can walk away from so many car accidents are those safeguards really that inconvenient? I wouldn’t think so.

There are tragic stories now cropping up everywhere, where non-COVID illness cannot be treated due to a lack of hospital resources. One man recently died of a treatable cardiac event after being turned down by 43 (yes 43) hospital ERs, travelling 200 miles and traversing three states by ambulance before his ultimate death. I’m afraid we will be reading many more stories similar to this. I’m wondering what may actually be needed here for people to finally start acting responsibly. Unfortunately, I think I know the answer, but I hope I’m wrong.

Doc H

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