Doctor provides a much-welcomed positive outlook on coronavirus

Mar 11, 2020, 1:43 PM
coronavirus test, coronavirus age...
Testing for coronavirus continues to be slow in the U.S. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Much of news regarding coronavirus is all doom and gloom, but much progress is being made with the virus. Dr. Gordon Cohen, a general surgery specialist in Tacoma, recently joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the other side that he and his colleagues are witnessing.

“One of the intensive care unit doctors that I worked with made a comment that sort of struck me, which is: ‘Where all the patients?’ What we’re seeing on the television and the media is creating this widespread panic and fear, but here we are in the hospitals and the intensive care units are not filling up with patients,” he said.

Dr. Cohen provided us with a short list of things that are not terrible about this virus outbreak so far. None of this is meant to suggest that you shouldn’t wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer disinfecting wipes, or that you should ease up on your social distancing. All of that should still be taken seriously. But Dr. Cohen wanted to suggest that not everything about this virus is pointing towards the end of the world. We have, for example, the numbers in China.

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“It appears that the situation is improving in China. The strong control isolation measures imposed by the Chinese government are actually starting to pay off,” he said. “For several weeks now the number of cases diagnosed every day is decreasing. It really looks like it’s plateaued for the most part.”

We also have a virus that can be killed, which is not always the case, and we attacked the coronavirus rather quickly.

“We can actually wipe the virus clean. A lot of times we can’t do that. But this virus could be effectively inactivated from surfaces with either alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or 0.1% bleach in just one minute,” he said.

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“If we compare, for example, to the first cases of AIDS, which were described in 1981, it took nearly two years to actually identify the virus HIV, which caused that disease. Whereas with COVID-19, the first cases of severe pneumonia were reported in China on December 31 2019, and by January 7 in just one week the virus had been identified and the actual genome of that virus was available on Day 10.”

Along with quick identification, there has been, for the most part, global cooperation across the board.

“The scientific community worldwide has jumped all over this. There’s tremendous international science cooperation. And after just one month, there’s about 164 peer-reviewed articles that can be accessed by scientists around the world. That’s huge,” he said. “Whereas with SARS in 2003 it took more than a year to reach less than half that number of articles. So the science community is really acting very, very rapidly.”

Dr. Cohen says that it also should be reassuring that we have a low number of severe cases.

“The disease really causes no symptoms or is mild in 81% of cases, and of course that means in 14% it can cause severe pneumonia, and in 5% it can become critical or even fatal. It’s still unclear what the death rate may be, but I think it’s likely it’s going to be much lower than what the estimates are so far.”

“People are recovering. Much of the reported data relates to the increase in the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths. But most infected people are actually cured, and there’s 13 times more cured cases than deaths, and that proportion is increasing because we’re making more and more and more diagnoses.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Doctor provides a much-welcomed positive outlook on coronavirus