Love

Our country has come to a crossroads. I do not believe that we may any longer sit and permit the racial injustices that have become apparent. I’m unaware of how long things have been this way. Perhaps it’s just modern technology removing the scales from my eyes. I’ve always known there was racism and bigotry in this country, but it was hidden from my view. For my sin of being an ignorant bystander, I apologize.

The two paths of this crossroads are the well worn status quo or the road less traveled. The status quo will continue the oppression and senseless violence. However, the road not yet taken can fulfill the promise of the American Dream. It can confirm that all are created equal and ensure that all can have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that all can be judged by the quality of their character and for nothing else.

There are many calls for government intervention. Action. Things to be done. First, I must say that the consequences of killing a man should be delivered swiftly and justly. That is the responsibility of the legal system. Any lack of duty in the legal system should also be dealt with swiftly. However, for the rest of us, we too have responsibilities.

Ghandi taught us to be the change we want in the world. I don’t believe we can legislate morality. Putting a law on the books that says a man cannot be racist is foolish. One cannot tell another how to think. However, we can each look inside ourselves and dig deep to ask what we believe. Is this country giving each man his due? When people are saying “all lives matter”, do they truly mean that black lives matter?

I go to my faith in this type of introspection. “…when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The Apostle Paul wrote this in his first letter to the church of Corinth many years ago, but they words still ring true. Nothing can replace these three, especially the greatest. Our best hope for this country to heal, to progress, and to be great again is for love to be our default mode.

Thomas Merton, a best selling author and monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani for many years once described his epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, KY. He said that he was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that he loved all these people. What would our world look like if everyone suddenly had that same epiphany? What if when we saw people without regard to their race, religion, or sexual preference; we just loved them like Thomas Merton did that day in Louisville? What if we followed the command that Jesus Christ gave us to love?

Street sign in Louisville, KY marking Merton’s revelation.

I don’t know if Whitman was talking about love, but love is the road less traveled these days. I think we can take that road and be the better off because of it.

Public Health Leadership

The recent pandemic of COVID-19, coupled with social media and 24 hour news coverage, has caused a lot of information to spread, some good and some bad.  People in positions of leadership have to decide what to with the information they are given.  They need to learn how to distill, how to determine good from bad, and they must set priorities.  In a situation like this those priorities can mean a debate between the health of a nation and the health of the nation’s economy.  

I have rarely been as proud of my fellow Mountaineers as I have been during the COVID-19 Pandemic.  The Appalachian DNA has given us a sense of purpose.  While we probably have one of the most vulnerable populations, West Virginia is on track to be one of the lowest in the nation, if not the lowest, in COVID-19 infections and deaths from the virus.  While this surge has hit us, we don’t seem as overwhelmed by it as other states. Yes, some of that is due to our solitary and rural nature, but our leadership has stepped up and the people are following.  We have stayed at home, washed our hands, and listened.  Our hospitals were having a difficult time staying open, yet state leaders and institutions have stepped up to keep them open and taking care of West Virginians.

At the federal level, the President mistook himself for a king and appointed himself as the sole decision maker.  His worry seems to be of the economy and reelection, not the health of the nation.  HIs desire for breakneck speed to reopen this country is foolish and selfish.  The recent backlash has caused the President to walk back his authoritarianism a little.  I hope he hears the cries of the people that do not want us to prioritize the health of the economy over the health of the people.

I hope everyone will work together to make certain we all can vote in November, by staying at home until the professionals tell us it is ok to resume activities.  As of right now, millions of people who work in healthcare are risking their life and the life of their families by working on the front lines.  Like David in the Old Testament, they go without the necessary armor and work with what they have.  They use worn out N95 masks like the smooth stones and are slaying the disease like a giant philistine. 

COVID-19 Projections

The Intitute for Health Informatics and Evaluation is an independent global health research group, housed at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. I was recently turned on to a website they’ve created that has some information about the healthcare system’s needs in response to the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic we’re all experiencing. This summary is of data found at that website here: http://covid19.healthdata.org. The site begins with data from the United States, but I will be discussing our local needs. If you click the drop down menu in the green bar, you can select by state.

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
University of Washington

State-Mandated Social Distancing

First, the information about state-mandated social distancing. It lists the dates of Governor Jim Justice‘s decisions to stay at home, close educational facilities, close non-essential services, and to severly limit travel. Users can also compare the dates by other states to see how soon each Governor responded to the issue.

Hospital Resource Use

The next section is important. It shows numbers from the model of hospital resource use. The IHME model gives a countdown to when peak resource use will be in the state. In West Virginia, they predict it to be one month away on May 1, 2020. The chart further details three things 1. Bed Shortage 2. ICU Bed Shortage and 3. Invavsive Ventilators Needed.

According to the model, West Virginia’s peak will be in one month. The state will need 1,504 beds and has 3,032 beds available showing no hospital bed shortage. It shows a predicted need of 228 ICU beds with 196 available or a shortage of 32 ICU beds. ICU beds available is the total number of ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients minus the average historical ICU bed use. Finally, 183 invasive ventilators could be needed. There is also a graph that allows the user to move up and down to see the projections as well as their best and worst case scenario. West Virginia as a state seems to be faring better than places like New York, who are overwhelmed and will see the peak sooner.

Deaths Per Day

The next section shows deaths per day. Using the model, it is projected that West Virignia has 31 days until peak count of daily deaths. Users can move left and right to see the models prediction and best/worst case scenario.

Total Deaths

Finally, the last graph on the site projects that West Virginia will have a projected 496 deaths from COVID-19, with best and worst case scenario from the model.

Thank you to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation for providing valuable data. I’ve been following this website since it was brought to my attention. It seems to be updated regularly to reflect the current situation. If you don’t live in West Virginia, look at how your state is predicted to be and how your policy makers are reacting.

Behind the front lines are health services researchers, biostatiticians, and epidemiologists that use models and data to help us predict many different health issues. In a pandemic, those data professionals take information we have and use it to help determine where resources need to go and help policy makers make the their decisions based on science. There is never enough research on health issues, especially in West Virginia.

Coronavirus Update

There has been some widespread misinformation about COVID-19.  I am encouraging anyone who follows my blog, podcast, TV show, or social media to please pay attention to the sources from which you receive information.  I have found a few very credible sources that I have recommended to people asking about the virus.  As always, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great place to turn. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is the home of Dr. Anthony Fauci whom you’ve probably seen on television lately. The federal government has set up a coronavirus website and for those of you wanting to know about ongoing research go to the NIH Coronavirus page. National news sources such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and CBS News have had excellent coverage.  I especially like the common sense of CBS’s Dr. John LaPookJohns Hopkins University is widely known as the top public health school and a top medical school.  Information from Johns Hopkins is relevant and high quality, though sometimes a little academic.  In West Virignia, a few my friends and colleagues have been disseminating information that I know to be credible.  Dr. Kathy Moffatt (pediatric infectious disease expert at WVU Medicine), Dr. Cathy Slemp (WV State Health Officer), Dr. Sherri Young (Kanawha Charleston Health Officer, and Dr. Clay Marsh (Dean of Health Sciences at WVU) have all been credible experts giving what is great advice to West Virginians. 

Misinformation can further the spread of the virus and can give a false sense of security to vulnerable populations that should be staying at home and not receiving visitors.  If you have a neighbor or relative that is in a vulnerable population, give them a call and check on them.  Now is a good time to call all of the old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  As I write this post, worldwide, there are 392,780 cases confirmed of COVID-19 in the world.  17,159 people have died as a result.  102,980 people have recovered.  These numbers tell me that we should be paying attention to the experts, not spreading misinformation, social distancing, and checking on others.

The Governor of West Virginia has issued a Stay at Home order.  Please don’t take this lightly.  Everyone realizes it is impossible for all of us to stay at home all the time.  We need food and supplies.  If you are out of something, go to the grocer and pick them up.  Go quickly, stay 6 feet away from everyone as much as you can.  If the parking lot is full, go back home and come another time or use the delivery and pickup services many grocers and pharmacies are offering.  The same goes with restaurants.  Go and use the curbside most of these local businesses are offering.  Please know that there are people working to make certain you have what you need.  Keep that distance from the cashier, people bagging your groceries, pharmacist, delivery person or anyone else you have to come near for basic necessities.  

A cropped shot of a young woman washing her hands in her bathroom

If you haven’t heard it enough, please wash your hands.  I realize that people have stocked up on hand sanitizer, but your best bet, is just to use the one major supply few seem to be running out of, good old fashioned soap and water.  Washing your hands with soap and water while counting backwards from 20 slowly will greatly help you keep the virus spread down.  Not just when you use the restroom, do it often.  

Legislature Goes Sine Die at Midnight

The 84th legislature will adjourn shortly. As I write this, I am listening to the Senate as members work toward finishing the day’s calendar and concluding legislative business. This legislature had many debates on healthcare issues during its 60 day session.

The Mountain State has one of the highest per capita rates of tobacco use in the country. Tobacco is always a big topic of discussion among policy makers and interest groups. There were no efforts to change clean indoor air regulations that are typically done at the local level in West Virginia. Though unsuccessful, Senate Leadership made a valiant effort to increase the tobacco tax and give tax parity to vaping products. The legislature was prepared to discuss raising the purchasing age for tobacco products to 21, but the Trump administration did so right before the session.

Vaccine policy is always a heated discussion, where West Virginia is a national leader. Our level of school-age immunizations has kept diseases like measles outside our borders. There were multiple bills that attempted to water down the vaccine policy in West Virginia, all of which were unsuccessful.

Medicaid is the 900 pound gorilla in the room. In his State of the State address, the Governor asked for the creation of a Medicaid trust fund and for removal of the wait list for the I/DD waiver. The legislature delivered both which sets West Virginia up with a healthy savings account for Medicaid and helps many West Virginians get the help they so need. A provider tax on MCOs will generate revenue that will provide adult dental coverage for Medicaid recipients up to $1,000.

The legislature passed one bill discussing telemedicine that begins to put West Virginia health providers in the 21st century to deliver healthcare to their patients using technological means.

John Law helped in drafting this post.