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Answering the 10 million dollar question

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States, the message from all levels of government has centered on the need to flatten the curve.

I, perhaps like most of you, thought that meant there would be a rush to quickly learn all we could about this novel virus and develop mid-to-long range medical strategies that would include effective measures to treat it and eventually devise a vaccine to help lessen its impact.

While what I just mentioned is taking place, to include some promising news recently on a medication to treat those infected in hopes of saving lives, the curve flattening was a short-term plan directed at preventing our hospitals – and their medical teams – from being overrun with patients.

There have been instances of hospitals that saw large numbers of COVID patients and, unfortunately, a high number of deaths, especially in New York City.

The latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control show the overall cumulative COVID-19 associated hospitalization rate is 4.6 per 100,000 people, with the highest rates in persons 65 years and older (13.8 per 100,000) and 50-64 years (7.4 per 100,000).

But yet this virus still strikes a chord of fear among the majority of citizens across our nation and the world.

I guess we all remember the doom and gloom prediction in the early stages of COVID-19….that it would kill tens of millions. Now we’ve learned that’s not the case.

While one death is too many, the factual data, as I write this column early Sunday afternoon (April 26), 299 lives had been claimed by COVID-19 in the state of North Carolina. In a state of nearly 10.5 million people, that translates into a death rate of 0.000028 percent of our population.

As of Sunday afternoon, 451 people are hospitalized in our state with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Yes, we’re seeing a rise in the number of cases here locally and across our state, but it appears a large majority of them are riding it out while self-quarantined at home. There are reports of those testing positive for the virus, but yet showing little or no symptoms at all.

And we need to realize that the growing number of confirmed cases is tied to an increased effort to test individuals. Exactly one month ago there were 636 reported cases in our state based off 12,910 tests administered, according to a chart by the NC Department of Health and Human Services. As of Sunday, April 26, there were 8,910 cases from 107,894 tests.

Meanwhile, our hospitals are experiencing huge financial losses as nearly everyone is frightened to “breathe the air.” Even those with severe health conditions – heart trouble, cancer, etc. – are staying away from hospitals right now. Ditto for those who were thinking about having elective surgeries – hip/knee replacements, cataract extraction, etc. That has led to some bad news, to include last week’s announcement from Vidant Health of their immediate plans to furlough some employees and drastically reduce the salaries and benefits of others.

Businesses – other than grocery stores and big box retailers – are also suffering. I fear that some may choose not to reopen.

So that leaves us with the proverbial 10 million dollar question. Do we dare reopen the economy? If we do, do we put ourselves at greater risk?

Our governor has extended his Stay at Home order, to include restaurants and “close contact” businesses, for two more weeks. If look at his plan after that, it would be the end of May, perhaps early June, before there would be a “limited” reopening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols, including the potential need to reduce capacity.

While I feel that the governor’s plan takes too long to reopen certain businesses, because I fall in the “high risk” category for COVID-19 due to my age and underlying health conditions, I will continue to play it safe, spending my off-work hours at home for a while.

How do you feel about this issue? Shoot me an email (shown below) and give me your thoughts.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.