Carilion Clinic, with increasing numbers of COVID-19 Coronavirus cases, went public Tuesday over its concern that too many people in our area are flat-out ignoring masks and other safety regulations and recommendations to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
“If there was ever a time to practice masking, hand-washing, and social distancing, it would be right now,” said Dr. Patrice Weiss, Carilion chief medical officer. “We are about to enter the seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know some people are tired about talking about preventing the spread. The reality is, however, that our region is experiencing the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations to date. If there was ever a time to practice masking, hand washing, and social distancing, it would be right now.”
“I have never experienced this level of mistrust or misinformation,” Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director fo the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District, told The Roanoke Times Tuesday.
Her comments came during the weekly pandemic briefing on the pandemic and came this week as the Associated Press released a poll showing more people today don’t trust what the government and media are telling them about the dangers of the virus.
“Even with HIV-AIDS, when it first became understood by the people, we didn’t get this kind of pushback,” Dr. Molly O’Dell, who leads the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Health District response, said in this week’s briefing. “A subset of the population does not believe in vaccines but it does not come anywhere near the volume of folks here to choose not to believe or choose not to follow recommendations.”
“We have no agenda other than to improve the health of the communities we serve,” Dr. Morrow says. “We are an evidence-based, science-based public health agency. When we speak, we speak numbers.”
Recommendations are all based on numbers that tell us the story that COVID is real. It’s happening in our communities. We have 51 people in the hospital right now who are suffering with COVID. This does not just affect 51 people, it impacts all their families and loved ones. We have 58 people, 58 of our residents, who have died with this disease. They are numbers, but every one of those numbers tells a story of a person who was loved and who was part of our community. We have no reason to lie about these numbers.
According to the AP poll, over half of Americans (53%) have a great deal of trust in their local health providers, but only 16% believe what they are hearing from President Donald Trump. Only 36% high a high level of trust in federal health officials, 26% in state or local governments, 18% in news media, 17% in family & friends, 12% in online search engines, and just 6% in social media.
That distrust appears often locally on Facebook, often right after we post the daily virus infection numbers on the COVID-19 New River Valley group on that website. One local woman believes hospitals inflate numbers because she is told they get more federal aid with each person admitted with virus symptoms.
Others believe the number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are part of a political “hoax” that will “disappear” right after the Nov. 3 election.
Carilion, which has 27 people, some of them from Floyd County, in Roanoke Memorial with COVID-19 people. New River Valley has 19, with nine tested positive and 10 other awaiting test results.
Floyd County had just 20 people with the virus just a little over eight weeks ago. Now it has 233 and the numbers climb almost daily, with 13 hospitalized and 16 dead — three times the death rate in Montgomery County, which is more urban and has many more residents.
Tuesday’s report from the Virginia Department of Health shows Roanoke Valley added 116 infections while Montgomery County & Radford went up 28.
“You don’t see it spread if people are following the guidelines,” says Mike Abbott, Carilion’s senior vice president. Last week, Memorial’s emergency room had to diver EMS traffic for an hour because of the large number of COVID patients were already in the ER.
“Carilion has the bandwidth and capacity for a surge,” says Dr. Weiss. “But one preventable case, one preventable death, that’s too many. There is no other way to reframe it. Too many people in our community are contracting the virus, and we do have the power to stop it.”
That “power” includes wearing a mask, maintain social distancing, and keep washing hands as much as possible.
Health experts continue to ask: “Is common sense too much to ask?”