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.

Some Facts About Coronavirus

The news media is covering COVID-19 or coronavirus as much as the 2020 US Presidential campaign and a number of my friends and colleagues have asked me about the disease.  Here is a little of what I know about it.  

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is spread much like influenza.  This strain was first identified in China, but has made its way across the world.  Italy has quarantined 50,000 people near Milan.  New York City discovered its first case of a woman who had recently traveled to Iran.  

While there are cases in the United States, coronavirus is not currently spreading rapidly in this country.  Experts are not entirely certain about how contagious COVID-19 is compared to other diseases that spread from person to person.  For example, measles is very contagious.  Organizations are putting out guidance about limiting or cancelling business travel and in larger population instances, are asking people to use technology like Skype or FaceTime to meet.

There are many ways to protect yourself from this disease.  Interestingly enough, they are similar to the ways you should protect yourself during flu season.    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if you are feeling sick, stay home and rest.  Cover your cough or sneeze and frequently clean and disinfect any objects or surfaces you come in contact with.  The best ways one can limit exposure are by: 

  • Avoiding people who are sick
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available   

There is no vaccine for coronavirus, but the federal government is working with pharmaceutical manufacturers to create one.  Vaccine development for COVID-19 is moving at a rapid pace, but it may be a year before we see a working vaccine.  There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19.  If you are feeling flu like symptoms, you should visit your primary care physician.  If you live in West Virginia, it’s probably not COVID-19, but you could have the flu.  The quicker you get started on treatment, the better off you’ll be.  

For full disclosure, I am not a clinician, much less an infectious disease specialist or an epidemiologist.  I recommend everyone use reliable sources, such as the CDC or your primary care physician for further information and to prepare yourself.  Much of the information I used for this blog post is from the CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 What you should know site and can be found here:

Vaccines are Safe, Effective, & Save Lives

The state of West Virginia works to stay above other states like Alabama and Mississippi in the bottom of most health rankings. Unfortunately, we have a lot of issues where the state ranks 50th out of 50 states. One of our bright spots is childhood immunizations. It is an area we rank number one. In fact, strong immunization laws have kept measles out of the Mountain State.

The year 2019 saw measles making a comeback tour across the United States. West Virginia was lucky in missing that comeback tour, or was it great planning? The West Virginia legislature decided many years ago to ensure children in school—public and private—were up-to-date on “their shots.” The exception to that law allows children with valid medical reasons, such as those in treatment for certain cancers or with allergies to vaccine ingredients, to be granted a medical exemption.

Photo courtesy of the WV Legislature

Every year, a vocal minority advocates for what they misguidedly call healthcare freedom. Usually offering pseudo or debunked science as a reason, they don’t want to vaccinate their children before they go to school. A well-known, now infamous, United Kingdom physician, Andrew Wakefield, lost his license to practice medicine for falsely reporting injuries from vaccines. Well-meaning parents receive bad information. In today’s social-media-filled environment, they run with whatever they have.

With certain exceptions, vaccines are safe for the person taking them. Vaccines work with “herd immunity,” which keeps the incidence of disease to a minimum. Vaccines are effective when the herd immunity is in effect. Vaccines prevent diseases like measles mumps and rubella along with certain types of cancer.

The best advice someone can get when looking for information is from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC gives patients and providers information about what vaccines to take and when. The information on the CDC website is scientific.