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Masking, social distancing and personal hygiene are key to getting through pandemic

Editor’s Note: This is part III of a three-part series.

BY MIKE FUHRMAN

Dr. Jose Perez has seen firsthand the devastating effects that COVID-19 can have on an otherwise healthy, athletic individual.

Dr. Jose Perez

A pulmonologist with Piedmont HealthCare, Perez has been working on the frontlines trying to save the lives of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began in March.

Among Perez’s patients was a man in his early 40s who was in excellent physical condition. He likely contracted COVID-19 at a church where several members of the congregation tested positive, Perez said.

In addition to developing pneumonia, the patient had an extremely weak heart, needed to be on a ventilator, and then underwent a tracheotomy, the doctor said.

The patient had severe complications caused by COVID, and was eventually transferred to a larger facility that offered a higher level of care not available locally. The patient survived, but has permanent damage to their brain that will impact them for the rest of their lives, according to Perez.

That patient’s outcome should serve as a reminder that Iredell County residents of all ages should take COVID-19 seriously.

Though the novel coronavirus can be particularly dangerous for individuals above age 60 and those with serious health conditions, COVID-19 can cause long-lasting health problems and even death for patients of all ages, Perez said.

Through August 19, the deaths of 157,413 people in the U.S. had been attributed to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among those, 320 deaths involved individuals under age 25 — compared to more than 144,500 deaths among people over age 54.

Lessons Learned

In the early days of the pandemic, healthcare providers did not have a lot of information about COVID-19 or clear treatment protocols. Doctors and nurses could only provide supportive care and hope the patients improved, Perez said.

“Now, thank God, we have some direction as to what we can do for patients,” the doctor said. “As a result, we’re having better results.”

Local providers are now using a combination of anti-viral medication, convalescent plasma, oxygen therapy and steroids to treat COVID-19 patients. They are also giving patients high doses of vitamin C, zinc and anti-coagulants.

And they are saving lives.

“At this point we’re trying everything that looks like it might help the patient,” Perez said. “We’re doing better. More patients are making it home.”

Everyone is at Risk

There is a misperception, Perez said, that younger people who contract COVID-19 do not get seriously ill.

“It doesn’t look any different than in the 60-, 70-, 80-, 90-years-olds we see,” he explained.

Although younger people are generally healthier and at less risk of serious complications, “sometimes they have underlying illness that no one is aware of that makes them more susceptible to infections,” Perez said. “Also, maybe the infection attacks them more aggressively.”

According to the Iredell County Health Department, 2,391 people in Iredell County have tested positive for COVID-19. Among those: 25 percent are under age 25, 38 percent are between the ages of 25 and 49, and 38 percent are above age 50.

Twenty-three deaths in the county have been attributed to COVID-19.

“The people who are really sick have come from large groups like church or have traveled to places where there are large numbers of infections,” Perez said.

For those who survive, the long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown. But months after being released from the hospital patients are continuing to experience some long-term impairment such as renal failure and a state of confusion, Perez said.

It’s also unknown if patients will build a long-term protection or immunity from COVID-19, or if they can contract it multiple times.

Masking, Social Distancing

Until there is a vaccine, it is incumbent upon residents to take all necessary precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones, Perez said.

Practicing social distancing and personal hygiene are essential. And wearing cloth face masks is also key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

But not just any face covering will do, he said, pointing to research that shows bandanas and gaiters are not as effective as cloth masks when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Face masks with valves also offer less protection, according to Perez.

“The mask is not just about protecting yourself,” he explained. “It’s about not passing it to someone who might die from it.”

For someone who has been on the frontlines, it has been frustrating for Perez to see masking become a political issue. As a society, we must put the health and safety of others above political rhetoric, he explained.

“The take-home message is really very simple: We’re going to get through this. But we have to swallow the mandates. We have to wear the mask, we have to keep a certain distance, and we have to wash our hands.”

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