Today Governor Reeves announced that outdoor gatherings of 20 or less are now permitted. Restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor dining, as well as indoor dining that is 50% capacity or less. Governor Reeves said restaurants have strict orders to follow, including that servers must wear masks.
“We have to keep fighting. The threat is not over. We must stay vigilant,” Governor Reeves said Monday afternoon.
As Mississippi gradually reopens, many citizens debate the best way forward.
News reporters as well as doctors on social media have reported that COVID-19 is not as serious as first thought.
Dr. Phil Pearson says now is not the time to let our guard down.
“This is the first disease in which well individuals are tested, and then those numbers are combined with the test results of sick individuals to compile data,” Dr. Pearson said. “So when you look at mortality rates of COVID-19 but include asymptomatic persons and compare that to influenza in which only symptomatic persons are counted you get a distortion.”
Such distortion makes the death rate for COVID-19 look statistically insignificant. If data was collected on how many asymptomatic influenza carriers there are in any flu season, the death rate among infected people would decrease because it would include both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.
“Those with positive COVID-19 tests but no symptoms skew the numbers towards mild disease,” Dr. Pearson said. “We do not do that with any other diseases. Medical studies show that many people are asymptomatic carriers in illnesses such as the flu and chicken pox, but we do not use positive test results from well individuals when we compile data.”
In general 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild like influenza. Current studies show that it takes an average of 15 days for a person with COVID-19 to overcome the virus and test negative.
Dr. Pearson points out that is an average. “We currently have a patient who has been positive longer than one month and still symptomatic.”
During the 2018-2019 flu season, US fatalities were estimated at 34,200. In just two months, the United States has had over 60,000 COVID-19 deaths—and that’s with incomplete data.
“COVID is present at larger numbers in our community now than at any previous time,” Dr. Pearson said. “You are more likely to spread or contract the disease now.”
During April, shelter-in-place orders slowed the spread, but they also dealt a severe blow to Mississippi’s economy. The economic strain and mental health strain bolster our need to make sure our constitutional rights are protected. However, balancing all the concerns isn’t a simple matter.
What about our constitutional rights during a pandemic?
“Wise and prudent recommendations are important for public health benefits but criminalizing constitutionally protected rights is a poor way to deal with unwise or foolish abuse of those rights,” Dr. Pearson said.
First amendment rights of free exercise of religion and peaceful assembly are protected rights. However, church members of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi were fined $500 in April for having drive-up services, despite remaining in their cars and being parked six feet apart. The mayor relented after two lawsuits and intervention from the US Department of Justice.
“There is Supreme Court precedent for infringement during the Spanish Flu but there has to be overwhelming public interest at stake,” Dr. Pearson said.
Choosing whether or not to take precautions while in a public place is not necessarily a protected right, because failure to take precautions can infringe on the rights of others.
At-risk people also have rights, too.
“I like the saying that ‘your rights end where mine begin,’” Dr Pearson said. “Exposing an at-risk person to COVID infringes on that individual’s right of expectation of safety.”
Criminal penalties have been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States for intentionally exposing someone to HIV virus. Many jurisdictions have also upheld laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Judges point out that consequences are not limited to the injured motorcyclist. For example, the Massachusetts Supreme Court said, “From the moment of the injury, society picks up the person off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job, and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family’s continued subsistence.”
Dr. Pearson believes it’s possible that neglecting to take reasonable measures to slow the spread of the virus could be penalized under such precedence.
How do we know what’s hype about COVID-19 and what’s not?
Sifting through the plethora of information on social media and in the news can be overwhelming. Several doctors have published videos promoting the idea that CDC data indicates the concern about COVID-19 has been exaggerated.
“Some doctors assert their extensive training and years of experience to justify their opinions. Having an opinion is reasonable and expected. But when a doctor vaunts such opinions as more important than those who have credentials and training in infectious disease, he or she can mislead public opinion in a detrimental way,” Dr. Pearson said.
Before latching on to a doctor’s specific recommendations, Dr. Pearson recommends checking that doctor’s background.
“Consider that physician’s experience. Do they have real credentials in the area in which they espouse expertise? An epidemiologist will have extensive training in the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases; a public health doctor has extensive training on monitoring the spread of disease among populations; a virologist has extensive training in viruses,” Dr. Pearson said.
Healthcare professionals are not just dealing with the exhaustion and trauma of this virus, but some are also sustaining heavy financial losses.
According to a report on WTVA, North Mississippi Health Services expects to lose $28 million a month until patient volume resumes. Currently, they have experienced a 40% to 60% drop in patient visits. USA Today reports this trend is widespread across America.
How do we balance public health concerns and economic disaster?
Public health and economic health are intrinsically woven together in a pandemic. Concerns about public health cannot be accurately weighed without taking into consideration concerns about economic disaster, and vice versa. There are no easy answers.
“In my opinion, this should be viewed as a balance scale. Easing restrictions and increasing the economy should be weighed against increased infection and deaths. One important question to ask ourselves is, ‘How much return to normal is increased mortality worth?’” Dr. Pearson said.
“I do not believe that we can or should prevent all COVID-19 illnesses or deaths by these measures,” Dr. Pearson emphasized. “But how much loosening of restrictions does one want until it is balanced by fatalities? Statistics do not seem important until it is your family, loved one, or friend who might die.”
The end of this pandemic is not clearly in sight. Until effective treatment and vaccines are available, the world as we know it will be impacted by COVID-19.
“If you follow the numbers on national or local infections and mortality, you will see that we are still in the midst of increasing COVID infections,” Dr. Pearson pointed out. “So the real truth, as I see, it is to consider the two sides of a balance scale. Reopening the economy benefits most Americans but also increases COVID and therefore mortality. So the question is, how much COVID infection and mortality are we willing to tolerate balanced against economic and personal freedoms.”
Dr. Pearson ended by saying, “I am not advocating one side or the other. We, as a people, will have to decide what we are willing to do. We cannot stop all COVID infections, or any other contagious disease for that matter, by isolation and other measures, but we can decrease the numbers and slow the progression.”
Never in the history of the world has the human race had the medical advancement and resources to stop a pandemic as soon as we do now.
What matters is how we handle the interim.
Many people in our communities desperately need to go back to work so that they can pay bills. But they also have the right to work in environments where reasonable precautions are being taken to protect their health.
America is at its best and prospers most when we are passionate about protecting and aiding the self-advancement, independence, and well-being of all.
“In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”—Philippians 2:3-4
Coming next time: Why you should beware of medical experts who claim that our immune system gets weaker if we are isolated.
For other articles in this series with our family doctor:
Biblical encouragement for these trying times: