To the Editor:
The reality of the current coronavirus COVID-19 circa April 17, 2020, is that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania we had 29,441 confirmed cases, and have 756 deaths. In Pike County as per April 17, 2020, we had 290 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.
At this point in time the cases are increasing upward (remember dear readers that our statistics are only the tip of the iceberg as our testing is still quite limited) like an elevator ride to the penthouse!
This is a global pandemic whose like has not been seen since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919. For those readers who want to understand the severity of that global historic event, I would suggest that you go to YouTube and type in “1918 Spanish Flu historical documentary Swine Flu Pandemic Deadly Plague of 1918." A view of this video clip is quite shocking
During the First World War there wasn’t any radio, TV, or internet, and news came by word of mouth, or via printed newspapers. Medical science of that era was quite primitive when compared with that of 2020. In 1918, medical science did not fully understand how rapidly respiratory viral particles could be spread from person to person.
In the 21st century, we have access to various forms of electronic media, and medical science is a lot more advanced than it was in 1918.
Access to real time news events all over the globe has made it possible for U.S. physicians and scientists to share knowledge with their colleagues in other countries via international global health agency websites, as well as the public health agency websites of many different countries all over the globe. This information has enabled both federal and state public health agencies to understand the value of “social distancing” and also the worth of mass testing in controlling the spread of this deadly viral pathogen.
Here are the important reality points that you must always keep front and center in your minds:
1) We currently do not have a vaccine or other thoroughly proven treatments against this deadly viral pathogen. We are currently investigating existing medications and their abilities to successfully treat and cure individuals that are infected with coronavirus COVID-19.
2) Broad testing of infected individuals who display symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19, and those individuals who are infected but do yet display symptoms, is extremely important. Sadly, the availability of RT-PCR viral carriage testing kits and related reagents are still in short supply, and so testing is limited in Pennsylvania and in the rest of the USA. Thus, our statistics reveal only the tip of the iceberg as to the actual number infected individuals.
3) Coronavirus COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory pathogen, and is commonly spread by droplets that come from coughing, sneezing, and the spray generated by talking. This is why the wearing of masks is so important. If we are to resume the normal activities of daily life, we need to identify those individuals, whether asymptomatic or symptomatic, and have them placed under house quarantine until they have been tested (via two subsequent viral pathogen carriage tests) and shown to no longer harbor this viral pathogen.
4) We are also learning about the length of time that this virus is able to survive on a variety of surfaces, and as such, its ability to spread to many individuals by their touching of said surfaces, and then subsequently touching their faces.
5) We currently are still not sure as to the kind of immunity that the human body generates after one has subsequently recovered from this illness.
There are several important points that physicians and scientists are currently investigating as relates to immunity in regard to this viral pathogen :
a) Does the immunity that a person has acquired after an infection provide that person with immunity against being re-infected with coronavirus COVID-19 (reports have been mentioned from the far-eastern sources about individuals who have become re-infected)?
b) Is the immunity that one acquires from a recent infection of only short duration?
c) Are the antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins) that a person develops after he or she recovered from a coronavirus COVID 19 infection protective or non protective?
I bring these points to your attention for one basic reason, namely, that until we are able to test all individuals in our county, state, or country, such that we can isolate and quarantine all infected individuals, we cannot just resume to our daily lives as if nothing has happened.
In future, private businesses, and governmental agencies, will have to test their employees on a routine basis in order to check that they free from Cornavirus COVID-19 infections. Members of the public who enter places of business, and other public places will undoubtedly have to undergo some sort of screening. Fortunately, we are now seeing the appearance of newly emerging testing systems based on immunology that are inexpensive, and which can provide “on site” results in a matter of 5 to 15 minutes, to determine if a person has been exposed to this deadly viral pathogen.
To the members of our Pennsylvania State Legislature who are eager to return residents to normalcy via Pa Senate Bill 613, I would suggest they move heaven and earth to provide funding for the purchase of coronavirus COVID-19 testing kits to all of the 67 counties of our commonwealth. This is the only way to identify and isolate infection carrying individuals whether they are not yet manifesting symptoms or are currently manifesting symptoms.
If our state legislators do not provide us with funding to perform adequate testing, then they will have been responsible for kindling the flames for further infectious spread of this deadly coronavirus COVID-19, and by their actions!
Dr. Robert-A. Ollar
Editor's note: Dr. Robert-A. Ollar, Ph.D, is clinical assistant professor of neurology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., and a member and consulting microbiologist of the Pike County Tick Borne Diseases Task Force Committee in Milford, Pa.