Meg Hansen: 3 steps for pandemic preparedness in Vermont

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Meg Hansen, a former executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom and current TV host and political commentator. She is running for lieutenant governor in 2020.

Life has come to an unprecedented halt, as we brace ourselves against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Health officials originally advised the public to stay home for the next 15 days, practice social distancing, and maintain rigorous hygiene. These steps will slow the contagion (“flatten the epidemic curve”), preventing thousands from falling ill simultaneously and overwhelming our hospitals.

Our political leaders, for their part, must balance regulatory flexibility and public safety. Now is the time for clear and reasoned discourse, and targeted deregulation to prevent Italy-like rationing of ventilators and hospital beds in Vermont.

Meg Hansen

Meg Hansen, former executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom

COVID-19 originated in China last December and is caused by a new human strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Scientists believe that the DNA spillover event occurred from an infected bat to a pangolin (scaly ant-eater) to humans in a Wuhan “wet market,” where livestock and wild animals are freshly slaughtered for meat.

Pandemic coverage has eclipsed all other news, as the media assiduously reports the growing number of COVID-19 cases. But meaningful details are hard to come by. As of this writing, Vermont has 22 cases and two elderly patients have died. How many of these patents have flu-like symptoms as opposed to severe respiratory distress? How many are using ventilators and how many are in the ICU? Absent this information, it would be natural for the public to conflate a coronavirus infection with respiratory failure and death. This is a recipe for mass panic.

A February study conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Protection showed that 80.9 percent (of 72,314 COVID-19 confirmed, suspected, and asymptomatic cases in China) experience mild, flu-like symptoms and patients fully recover at home. This applies to the vast majority of those under the age of 60 and without pre-existing conditions, as confirmed by other studies. Clarifying the infection pattern does not minimize the risks at hand. We need dispassionate discussion to counter the sensationalized reports blurring the contours of this crisis.

We also need swift and decisive action from the government – a tall order given that agility eludes bureaucracy. So it is encouraging that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon conduct clinical trials to test anti-malarial drug chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19. Chloroquine has biochemical properties that prevent the replication of coronaviruses, and Chinese studies demonstrated the drug’s apparent efficacy and acceptable safety against SARS-CoV-2. Researchers abroad (including at my alma mater where I graduated with an MBBS/ British medical degree) are also testing anti-viral drugs remdesivir and lopinavir–ritonavir.

Balancing Regulatory Flexibility and Public Safety

Following the federal government’s declaration of the coronavirus outbreak as a public health emergency on January 31, the FDA prioritized the test kit developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the test was faulty. Laboratories across the nation could have developed their own tests to fill the void caused by CDC’s error. However, federal regulations thwarted these attempts, resulting in the initial lack of widespread testing.

Since then, in a welcome turnabout, the FDA has authorized states to develop diagnostic tests in laboratories within their borders, and private companies to provide coronavirus test kits to the public. The Department of Health and Human Services has allowed doctors to practice across state lines. But now, Vermont’s bureaucratic leviathan threatens public health. The following three steps will mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and increase community preparedness.

1. Suspend Vermont’s CON laws

Vermont enacts Certificate of Need (CON) laws that are designed to curtail costs by artificially limiting the supply of health resources. Providers must receive approval from the State to create or expand healthcare facilities in a given area, and permission is only granted when sufficient need for new services has been demonstrated. In practice, CON laws lead to healthcare rationing. The government often denies requests for new facilities to suppress economic competition and protect the University of Vermont Health Network’s monopoly. These restrictive, crony laws will jeopardize public safety by reducing our capacity to take care of all Vermonters who may need medical attention during this crisis.

2. Remove the plastic bag ban

COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads via droplets and fomites. Several studies have shown that reusable shopping bags (unlike plastic bags) turn into germ reservoirs. Beginning this July, Vermont retailers will be prohibited from giving plastic bags to customers at the checkout.

3. Use OneCare Vermont data for preemptive care

A population health approach creates partnerships between primary care and public health sectors to address local health needs and improve community health outcomes. OneCare Vermont’s ACO All-Payer model has invested millions in establishing this new system (see table).

2017

Actual

2018

Actual

2019

Budget Approved

2020

Budget Submitted

Total
Informatics Infrastructure Support $1,500,000 $3,500,000 $4,250,000 $3,500,000 $12,750,000
Complex Care Coordination Program $977,616 $5,618,419.87 $9,181,362.14 $10,223,589.68 $26,000,987.69
Primary Prevention $620,380.95 $910,720 $1,031,752 $2,562,852.95
Community Health Team Payments $2,245,852 $2,411,679.13 $2,379,711.25 $7,037,242.38
Support and Services at Home (SASH) $13,857 $3,704,400 $3,815,532 $3,968,245.89 $11,502,034.89

Because the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, and COPD) are at a high risk for serious COVID-19 illness and death, the following metrics will help identify at-risk persons and allow healthcare providers to target preemptive care. By Hospital Service Area (HSA) and age group, for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1) –

(a) Number and results of A1C (diabetes blood test) scores recorded

(b) Number and results of hypertension cases under control

(c) Number of COPD cases by severity

Further, how many Vermonters tested positive/ negative for the influenza virus in each HSA in Q1 2020? This data could predict the potential impact of COVID-19 and guide resource allocation. If OneCare fails to deliver this critical information now, then our politicians must hold the billion-dollar experiment accountable.

Rudyard Kipling (another India-born Southern Vermonter) wrote, “Of all the liars in the world, the worst are our own fears.” Advanced medicine, Internet knowledge sharing, and our powerful survival instinct will win the day.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/GangstonTech and Meg Hansen

7 thoughts on “Meg Hansen: 3 steps for pandemic preparedness in Vermont

  1. Thank you Ms. Hansen for your intelligent and well-researched commentary. You definitely have my vote in November.

    • Scientists believe that the DNA spillover event occurred from an infected bat to a pangolin (scaly ant-eater) to humans in a Wuhan “wet market,” where livestock and wild animals are freshly slaughtered for meat. Nowhere does Meg Hansen say the virus originated in a laboratory. Mr. Fixx did you even read the article by Ms. Hansen?

    • Pointed attack on Ms. Hansen a disgrace as anyone w/eyes can see your complaint about not having facts straight completely untrue. Appears as a slam on a conservative voice to cast aspersion and doubt on her many credentials as she is also now a political figure running for office. And if so not the attack. A delegation was sent to hush her at the behest of none other tham Comrade Phil. There were others and in actuality quite an honor.
      Your link represents but one opinion – and it is unknown whether it was manufactured or not as no one is allowed in to investigate however she did not say that.

    • Meg Hansen….is brighter and smarter than most. There is so much propaganda out there, all under the label of science which people claim you can’t challenge. By saying you can’t challenge you automatically give you the basic tenant of science, which is test, test, test.

      One of the basic understandings is to have solid numbers and data from which to make an informed decision. We don’t have any real, informative information in which to make the most basic determination of death rates, to which is the great fear. A low death rate would indicate this is only a nasty flu.

      Your whole argument about the origin has little merit or significance….it’s still here. I’ll take her science and knowledge back ground over any candidate for any state office position. Clearly she has a more in-depth knowledge than the others, to say contrary is just foolish.

      Vote your conscience. Some how for many becoming a socialist nation and state is recipe for curing the flu. Please explain that one.

      I’ll vote for Meg, she would make a wonderful Lt. Governor.

    • Not only is Ms. Hansen’s account of the ‘science’ describing the origin of the c-virus reasonable, I especially appreciate her identification of Vermont’s Certificate of Need (CON) laws as a primary issue of concern. Several years ago, Rob Roper argued for the repeal of these CON laws for the specific reason that they arbitrarily and inefficiently limited investment in healthcare infrastructure. Now we’re paying the piper for our legislator’s indifference.
      https://vtdigger.org/2017/10/31/rob-roper-repeal-vermonts-certificate-need-laws/

      Perhaps the naysayers will do better research in the future.

  2. Interesting article not heard about often, new research. Thankfully, I’m O Pos, still have my 1958 military dog tags.. I’ll be more observant about my surroundings, but not alarmed. This should cut the odds a little, will maintain precautions.

    New Research: Coronavirus Vulnerability Could Be Partially Determined by Blood Type
    https://www.westernjournal.com/new-research-coronavirus-vulnerability-partially-determined-blood-type/?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=wcjemail&utm_campaign=CAN&utm_content=2020-03-19

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *