Dr. Joshua White of the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph says that logic and reason must prevail over fear and panic if the public is to be part of the solution for containing the coronavirus.
The first case of the virus was discovered last week in Bennington, in southern Vermont. It has since been discovered in Chittenden County, after a local resident there tested positive for COVID-19.
“This was expected, and the only question was where it might pop up. I anticipate this number to jump substantially in the near future,” White wrote in a recent web post. “Two weeks from now, there will likely be hundreds of identified cases in our communities. I want people to understand and expect this, such that it is not quite as alarming when it occurs.”
In an interview he told True North that testing in Vermont has just begun, and that 41 patients had been tested as of Tuesday. He said many carriers of the virus will exhibit few or no symptoms.
“I caution the public that when we see that spike it doesn’t mean that there is a sudden rise in cases — it just means that they were out there and we’ve now just identified them,” he said.
The reaction to the coronavirus has been unprecedented in the United States. On the national scene, the NBA and other professional sports leagues have been putting their seasons on hold. States have restricted large public gatherings, and many universities have switched to remote learning.
White told True North that “social distancing” can be effective, but it should be considered carefully.
“The less interaction people have, particularly in large groups, the slower this virus is going to spread,” he told True North. “There are parts of that which are going to be really challenging — for instance, if a school elects to close, you now have to figure out what to do with kids, because their plan now has a monkey wrench thrown into it.”
White argues that the best thing Vermonters can do is stay calm and take reasonable precautions.
“Being brave is not lack of fear … it’s what you do with that fear,” he said. “For many people, in the face of worry it is comforting to do something — anything — even if that something isn’t clearly going to help,” he wrote.
He explained that panic can hurt those who already have the virus or those dealing with other emergencies.
“If you’re 29 years old and you are healthy [and not exhibiting symptoms], and you show up to the emergency room just because you want to get tested … the process of registering you, answering your question, and doing nothing else and sending you home is gonna take 20 minutes,” he said.
If enough people panic and present themselves at hospitals and doctors offices, it could backlog the system.
“It really wouldn’t take very many people at all to overwhelm the capacity of that system,” he said. “The health care system is just like any other factory or process; there is an input process and there is an output, and that takes energy, resources and time.”
He said while there is currently no treatment for the disease, it helps to eat well, exercise, have a good attitude and get plenty of sleep.
“There are all sorts of pillars to health that are commonly neglected,” he said. “There is definitely a direct correlation in your nutrition and your immune status.”
White said medical professionals across the state “are dedicated to maintaining the health and safety of this community.
“As in all things, this too shall pass,” he said.