With controversy and an overwhelming amount of information surrounding COVID-19, Strathmore’s mayor and two local doctors recently decided to set the record straight.
During an Aug. 13 Facebook Live video address featuring Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule, local physicians Joni McNeely and David Piesas discussed the current medical understanding of COVID-19 and addressed some common misconceptions regarding the virus.
While COVID-19 is sometimes referred to as a flu, it differs from the actual flu (influenza) in several ways. First, they come from different virus families: flu comes from the orthomyxoviridae, with two types found most commonly in humans, a and b. Influenza has a shorter incubation period, which is typically one to two days. “On that first day, we’re starting to feel achy, get a bit of a headache, and we tend to self-isolate earlier,” said McNeely.
There is a longer incubation period with COVID-19, which is a coronavirus, the same virus family as the common cold. “It can be up to 14 days before you actually show the symptoms,” she said. The virus also presents a wider range of symptoms.
The notion of people spreading the virus without showing symptoms (known as asymptomatic spreaders) has been controversial, said Piesas.
“They’ve done quite a few studies on asymptomatic spread, and a lot of the studies showed that people who thought they were asymptomatic were actually not. They had mild symptoms they did not report,” he said. “It occurs, but it is quite rare.”
COVID-19 has resulted in a higher number of deaths than influenza in a typical year and has killed more than recent flu pandemics. COVID-19 has caused a higher case fatality rate, with 1.6 per cent of cases resulting in death, compared to flu, which causes death in about 0.1 per cent of cases, said McNeely.
The hospitalization rate has also been much higher for COVID-19, with about 10,000 hospitalizations over the past four months, compared to about 12,000 for flu in a year. Piesas attributed a lower COVID-19 hospitalization rate than was initially expected to the shutdown throughout March and April.
People with a comorbidity, which refers to another illness to illnesses, have worse outcomes with the virus, Piesas explained. Common examples include hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“People who have other illnesses are more prone to being hospitalized or ending up in the ICU,” he said.
Maximizing testing is key to confronting COVID-19.
“A lot of people find that if you have more swabs, obviously you’re going to pick up more cases,” said Piesas. “But the point is to identify these cases and tell someone, look, you’ve got COVID, (and) you should stay home and stop spreading it.”
Also discussed was the concept of herd immunity, which is when enough people in a population have immunity to a virus such that there is a reduced likelihood of individuals lacking immunity from contracting the virus.
“For COVID-19, what we’re saying is that we need a herd immunity of about 70 per cent,” said McNeely. “So that’s what’s needed to stop the spread.”
It remains unknown whether a single COVID-19 infection results in persistent immunity, which means that a vaccine is likely the best way to ensure immunity, she added. “The best way to get our herd immunity up there is (to) vaccinate – so don’t refuse it.”
McNeely and Piesas also discussed treatment options, the effectiveness and best practices of wearing masks, and other common topics of discussion. To view the presentation, visit the Town of Strathmore Facebook page.
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times