Irresponsible letter should sound alarm

I was dismayed to see Don Mencl’s letter (“Coronavirus threat being fueled by media”) from March 17.

It was irresponsible in the extreme, and believing it will mean that many of our friends and neighbors will die.

We can no longer prevent COVID-19 finding its way into our communities. And we have very limited time to slow down its spread. Let me say that again: We have very limited time to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

If epidemiologists are even close to correct, our hospitals will be overwhelmed.

Do the math.

According to the Penn­syl­va­nia Dept. of Health, our largest hospital (UPMC Altoona) has approximately 346 beds, including 38 ICU beds and a utilization rate of 71% before COVID-19.

Blair County has a population of about 122,000. Epi­demi­ol­ogists estimate that, given how infectious the virus is (one person with the virus will infect two-three additional people) 40-60% of Americans will contract the virus.

If that holds true, 49,000 Blair countians will contract the virus. And 15-20% will require hospitalization. That means over 7,300 of our neighbors will need hospital care.

Many of those will need intensive care.

And we haven’t even talked about the shortage of respirators and ventilators in these hospitals.

Blair County has one thing that could work in its favor. We are a largely rural community, which means if we implement strict social distancing, we can more easily slow the disease spread than cities like New York.

But we are also an older than average population. More than 20% of our citizens (27,000 people) are over the age of 65 and at higher risk for serious complications.

The media is not overhyping the gravity of the pandemic. In fact, some outlets have irresponsibly minimized the risks to public health and the medical system As a result, we are not prepared.

We are on the same trajectory as Italy. Doctors there are having to triage patients and decide who will and who will not receive treatment, who lives and who dies.

If we take immediate action, we may prevent that. If we succeed it, will look like we overreacted. I hope and pray in two months we can say we overreacted.

That is what success will look like.

Meera Bajwa, MD



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