How Serious is COVID-19?

This is Part 1 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

When our church last met on March 15, Dr. Phil Pearson prepared our congregation for COVID-19. He brought handouts he had printed from the CDC so each family could have a copy.

We’ve known Dr. Pearson and his wife for almost 15 years. And we’ve never known him to get on someone’s bandwagon. Quite the opposite. So when he spoke that Sunday, we took his words seriously.

My husband and I knew then that COVID-19 was going to be more than just a blip on the radar.

This is the first in a series of articles in which Dr. Pearson, who has been practicing medicine for 39 years, will discuss COVID-19. Note: SARS-CoV-2 is the virus and COVID-19 is the resulting disease. The NIH and CDC information sheets usually generically refer to corona virus.

“COVID-19 is a serious illness. Compare it to the H1N1 Swine flu of 2009 in which we had about 60 million Americans infected over a period of 12 months. During that time, we had over 12,000 deaths in the United States,” Dr. Pearson wrote in an email. “The death rate expected from this coronavirus is expected to be 10 times the usual death rate of influenza.”

Dr. Pearson pointed out that medical experts are expecting that 1% of the people who contract the virus will die.

“Since it is a new virus, we have no prior immunity to it. If we have 60 million people infected, we can expect 600,000 deaths, if we let it follow its natural progression,” said Dr. Pearson.

 COVID-19 has a much higher contagious rate than influenza.

“Every one that has influenza may spread it to an average of 1.6 more people if there is no prior immunity. But for the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19, each person who is infected is likely spread it to an average of 2.6 people,” Dr. Pearson explained. “This causes a more rapid climb in infections than the seasonal flu unless mitigation techniques are utilized.”

Shelter-in-place orders set in place by Governor Reeves on April 3 will help in several ways.

“Mitigation measures are most useful to delay the peak and allow healthcare to keep up with the patient load,” Dr. Pearson said. “Mitigation also may lower the peak numbers of infected persons. If the recommended mitigation measures are used total infected individuals may be 10-25 million Americans with 100,000-240,000 deaths.”

Medical experts warn that infected people can spread COVID-19 for up to two weeks before they experience any symptoms. Asymptomatic people are a special concern to doctors.

“Persons with no symptoms expose others to the virus, especially those at high risk of death from the infection,” Dr. Pearson said.

“At present some experts believe that only 12 percent of present SARS-CoV-2 infections are reported. The others have either not been tested yet or have only mild or no symptoms. Yet they are still contagious to others.”

With such a highly transmittable virus, it can be difficult to see how things will return to normal anytime soon. But Dr. Pearson explained how the novel coronavirus crisis could end.

“The natural course of a virus is to infect individuals. When enough have been infected and recovered with good immunity then the virus loses traction in the community and can no longer rapidly spread even though it may remain in the community,” he said.

Although people would still contract the virus, it would not continue to be a crisis.

“There would still be sporadic infections but not the widespread rapid expansion of infection,” he said. “In the future a vaccine may be available, but that is likely be 12-24 months away.”

Dr. Pearson views shelter-in-place orders as prudent measures that are needed to contain this growing crisis.

“[Governor Tate Reeves’] orders are an attempt to mitigate the natural progression of the disease.” Dr. Pearson said. “It was evident to some authorities that people were not following the best practices previously outlined on their own, so the officials stepped in to make it mandatory.”

Shelter-in-place orders have been met with resistance and fueled many debates. While Dr. Pearson believes government functions best when its powers are limited and individual liberties are protected, he does promote the wisdom of shelter-in-place orders.

“Whether one considers the shelter-in-place orders as legal and constitutional or not, these orders still contain prudent information and actions. This is a time to consider one’s own impact on our neighbors and not just think of ourselves,” Dr. Pearson said.

“The most vulnerable of us will not likely be traveling about and congregating. It will be the ones who think themselves healthy who will do that and then may pass COVID-19 on to the vulnerable or to a healthcare worker who then enters a nursing home and spreads it before they know they are ill.”

Some may fear that we’ve entered a new era of viruses that are hard to contain. Dr. Pearson doesn’t think so.

“This has been going on for generations,” Dr. Pearson wrote. “Consider the Black Plague (Bubonic or Pneumonic plague) in the 1300s AD, in which an estimated 30% of the world’s population died. Or consider the pestilence in 2 Samuel 24 in which 70,000 men died out of a census of 1,300,000 for a death rate of 5%.”

When we left church on March 15, we were rather sober. We realized it might be a while before we gathered with our church family again.

Little did we know that within just a few hours someone directly connected to our family would be admitted to the hospital because she was coughing up blood.

A few days later her test for the coronavirus came back positive.

The information Dr. Pearson shared that Sunday helped me to calmly respond when fear threatened to overwhelm.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. Please follow the advice of a knowledgeable family doctor and guidance from the CDC.gov.

Also, my desire is to responsibly report about top concerns surrounding COVID-19 by interviewing a trusted source. For in-depth journalism from a Biblical perspective, I highly recommend World Magazine.

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