Letter to the editor: Local doctors plead with the public to take COVID-19 seriously

Caregivers that handle COVID-19 patients at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. Undated photo. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — As your local healthcare providers with front row seats to the devastation that COVID-19 is wreaking on lives, we appeal to you directly: please take COVID-19 seriously and abide by the current health guidelines.

Heather Anderson, a nurse in the intensive care unit of Dixie Regional Medical Center, dons her protective gear as she prepares to go in and take care of a COVID-19 patient. St. George, Utah. Oct. 29, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

We are at a critical point in this very real pandemic, which has already stretched our health care resources in St. George nearly to the breaking point. It doesn’t have to be this way, and we can still turn the tide.

The growth of COVID-19 cases in Utah is exponential and unsustainable. We are now averaging almost 1,600 cases a day across the state and over 100 a day in Southwest Utah. These are not inflated case counts. They translate directly into increased hospitalizations, prolonged intensive care unit stays and very real deaths in a predictable fashion.

Dixie Regional Medical Center has had to repurpose an existing unit to become a second ICU. Even with the increased number of ICU beds, skilled health care providers – especially those who care for the critically ill – are a limited resource. Forcing nurses, physicians and technicians to work ever longer overtime shifts is not sustainable. Retraining others to fill these roles impacts other care.

If things continue to worsen, hospitals may have to allow some aspects of care to suffer and ration care. These decisions require consensus guidelines and the approval of government officials. You may have read that those conversations are already taking place. We hope that we never get to this point in Southern Utah, but we write this letter today because if things don’t change, we fear we will.

Chart shows cases in Southern Utah from the coronavirus from May 1 to Nov. 6, 2020 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

COVID-19 is not just any old “cold virus.” Even with efforts to control the spread, it has already caused far more deaths across this country in a single year than any infectious disease since the 1918 “Great Influenza” pandemic. Hospitals and doctors, like ourselves, are not falsifying death certificates to inflate the numbers, or for any sort of financial gain. Over 235,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19 in nine months. To put this in perspective, the highest estimated number of annual deaths from influenza (the flu) since 1986 was 61,000 deaths in 2017-2018. We are now seeing daily deaths from COVID-19 in Utah reaching into the double-digits. Twenty-two of the 56 deaths in Southwest Utah occurred in October.

We have heard community members state that they are not concerned because COVID-19 “only affects the very elderly.” While it is true that older people are more likely to get severe disease, this is not universal. Twenty-five percent of all deaths have been among people under the age of 65. Here in Utah, we have lost patients in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to this virus, and many who recover continue to have long-term symptoms.

Additionally, an overcrowded hospital cannot optimally provide care for people who need emergency care for other reasons such as recreational accidents, heart attacks and strokes. Failure to take personal action to reduce the spread of the disease will lead to unnecessary deaths due to COVID-19 as well as other causes.

Photo illustration. | Photo by DragonImages, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Because there are now so many cases of COVID-19 in our community, the virus is spreading widely not only at large events but at small social gatherings such as birthday parties, family holidays and social dinners. It then spreads in homes to family members who may be at higher risk. It is estimated that 60% of adults have at least one condition that may place them at higher risk. The growing list of these conditions includes diabetes, moderate asthma, obesity and immune disorders. 

While there is still much to be learned regarding how to treat COVID-19, a growing body of studies convincingly shows that masks, when worn properly (covering the mouth AND nose) work to decrease the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. Masks work by keeping the majority of an infected person’s respiratory droplets from traveling far enough away from them that others can breathe them in. Your mask protects me, and my mask protects you.

The following are simple measures taken by individuals across a population that will reduce illness, save lives AND allow most businesses to remain open and provide services. We MUST all do the following:

  1. Wear a mask in ALL indoor public places. 
  2. Wear a mask when within six feet of others, both indoors and outdoors.
  3. Support and encourage customers, friends and family members to wear masks and physically distance in our presence. Be an example.
  4. Limit social gatherings to 10 or less people. 
  5. Wash our hands frequently.
  6. Get tested when we have symptoms. 
  7. Isolate and follow CDC guidelines when we have had an exposure.
Caregivers that handle COVID-19 patients at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. Undated photo. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

This won’t last forever, but these measures are necessary at this moment in time.

We humbly plead with you to do these basic things to slow the spread of COVID-19 until better treatments become widely available, and a safe and effective vaccine is available to those who most need and want it. Failure to take these steps puts us at risk of another lockdown, something none of us want.

Doing nothing to slow the spread of this disease really is not an option and will lead to a significant rise in unnecessary deaths and illness. This has nothing to do with restricting freedoms, but everything to do with temporarily sacrificing some of our own comforts to help keep more people alive, our community healthy and our economy strong.

Please join us in this fight. We are not giving up, and we sincerely hope you aren’t either.

Submitted by ELLEN ARCH, MD with the following signatories from the Southern Utah area:

  • Cathleen Obray, MD, MHS
  • Paul Jensen, MD, MPH
  • Larry Eggert, MD
  • Joan Eggert, MD
  • Alberto Brizolara, MD
  • Carlos Mercado, MD
  • Joseph Te, MD
  • Luciana DeSaibro, MD
  • Sharon Richens, MD
  • Paul Whitecar, MD
  • Carlos Leon-Forero, MD
  • Monica Moreno, MD
  • Kurt Hales, MD
  • Deborah Chun, MD
  • Patrick Carroll, MD, MPH
  • Steven Clark, DO
  • Tyler Haberle, MD
  • Cole Gibbons, MD
    David Crimin, MD
  • Michael L Wilson, MD
  • Jeff Jensen, MD
  • Carrie Willis, MD
  • Tim Larsen, MD
  • Berkeley Bate, MD
  • Bob Andruss, MD
  • Leslie Rasch, NP-C
  • Susan Wiedemeier, MD
  • Cheryl McGovern, PA-C
  • Jay Hansen, MD
  • Rick Obray, MD
  • Claude Warner, MD
  • Scott Parkinson, DO
  • Thomas Jones, MD
  • Corey Ellis, DO
  • Gordon Smith, MD
  • Bryce Ferguson, MD
  • Mustufa Saifee, MD
  • Steven Temple, MD
  • Mark Hoth, MD 
  • Karen Lin, MD
  • Heather Gilbert, MD
  • Adrianne Walker-Jenkins, MD
  • Theodore Moon, MD
  • Zahabia Gandhi, MD
  • Matthew Fabiszak, DO
  • Rajiv Kaddu, MD
  • Michael Marsden, DO
  • Kerri Smith, DO
  • Diane Vroenen, DO
  • Jason Hansen, MD
  • Swati Laroia Coon, MD
  • Michael Marsden, DO
  • Kerri Smith, DO
  • Alan Sutak, MD
  • Aaron O’Brien, MD
  • Edward Prince, MD
  • Michael Anderson, MD
  • Stephen Kirk, MD
  • Todd Parry, MD
  • Scott Parry, MD
  • Randy Clark, MD
  • Derrick Haslem, MD
  • Robert Rose, MD
  • Brian Koldyke, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
  • Jotham Manwaring, MD
  • Ryan Williams, MD
  • Kathryn Walker, MD
  • Steven Van Norman, MD
  • Nate Jenson, DO
  • Thomas Bigham, DO
  • Jacqueline Murray, MPAS, PA-C
  • Cort Leavitt, MD
  • Cristy Waters, PA-C
  • Michael Green, MD
  • Joy Welsh, MD
  • Brad Myers, MD
  • Warren Butterfield, MD
  • Greg Last, MD
  • Rex Heaton, MSN FNP-BC
  • Colton Bennett, PA-C
  • Roger Siddoway, MD
  • Chase Grames, DO
  • Brandon Bonewell, DO
  • Jamal Horani, MD
  • Dan Christensen, MD
  • Chad Lunt, MD

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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