COVID -19 Update From Dr. Bruce Albrecht
To the Denver Fertility Family and Community
In the 1960s Walt Kelly the creator of Pogo and Friends a popular cartoon in the daily newspaper had a cartoon with the punch line “we have met the enemy, and he is us”.
Well it is easy to see how the populace has become complacent with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
In our communities many people have stopped wearing masks. More and more people are going out to eat at restaurants. Many people especially the younger generation are going to bars and nightclubs.
And I have stopped writing blogs about it.
When the pandemic first started, I had tremendous curiosity as well as fear about the pandemic, and I wanted to find out everything I could about the virus. I gathered and wrote a lot of information about the virus before it all became common knowledge. There's not much new to write about the virus and you cannot listen to radio or television without being bombarded with the latest news which is generally just rehashing old information
Does my lack of interest in the virus mean that it has disappeared or that we don't need to worry about it anymore? To the contrary, the virus is still present, and it is still infecting people, and it is still killing people. It isn't going to go away any time soon.
However, the changing demographics of the persons being infected by COVID-19 do tell us something about people's approach to the virus. In the initial wave of the pandemic, the persons most likely to die or older and were high risk with medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. With the second wave that we are currently experiencing, the age of persons becoming infected is much younger and they don't have complicating medical diseases.
Have we killed off all of the old people and all of the people with complicating medical conditions? I hardly think so. I'm still here and so is my wife.
Have younger people become complacent? Are they tired of being quarantined and social distance? Are they neglecting to use masks, social distancing and good hygiene? I think the answers to these questions are yes.
Every time I have a consultation with a new patient, I stress to them how important those three things are as they are the only things that we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections. How effective are these measures?
The best story about the effectiveness of these measures comes from a beauty parlor that re-opened after the initial wave of COVID-19. Two hairdressers ran this business together. When they were alone in the salon, they did not wear masks. They were both smokers and took their breaks together. When there were customers in the salon, both hairdressers wore masks and all of the clientele were required to wear masks as well. The chairs were positioned to provide social distancing of the customers; however, the hairdressers were necessarily close to their clients. They cleaned down their chairs and everything in the parlor frequently during the day, and they were compulsive about hand washing.
Unfortunately, both hairdressers became ill almost simultaneously and were diagnosed with COVID-19. During the two weeks before they developed symptoms, they had serviced 79 clients in their salon. Contact tracing for all 79 clients was performed and guess what? No one developed COVID-19.
This is very strong evidence that suggests that masks on infected people and masks on persons exposed to infected people as well as meticulous hand washing and environmental hygiene work very well to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Further demonstrating the importance of masks, it needs to be noted that the only thing the hairdressers were not able to do was to socially distance themselves from their clients. It is very hard to do a woman's hair 6 feet away since they did not have six-foot arms. Therefore, the credit for preventing spread to the clients, needs to be given primarily to the masks.
Their experience mimics our clinic. We cannot be 6 feet away from patients when we are doing ultrasounds, drawing blood, giving shots and doing procedures such as IUIs, egg retrievals and embryo transfers. But we can wear masks and gloves, and we can practice meticulous hand washing and cleaning of our clinic. No patient is allowed in Denver Fertility without a temperature check and a mask.
In addition, we are practicing social distancing by doing most of our consultations by telemedicine. That reduces dramatically the number of patients in the clinic at any one time. No one ever caught any virus over the phone or Internet!
Can we wait for a vaccine? Well the reality is that we will have to wait. Even though there are several vaccines that are due to be available to some people before the end of 2020, I suspect that there will be no vaccine available for the majority of Americans until next spring or summer.
Of course, the next question is how effective will it be. Since there has never been an effective vaccine for other coronaviruses, I am concerned that there will not be a truly effective vaccine for COVID-19 coronavirus. Remember there are four major types of coronavirus that we have been dealing with for decades if not centuries. There are four coronaviruses that we call the "common cold." The only difference between those coronaviruses and COVID-19 is that we have been exposed to them for years and we have all had common colds many times. There have been efforts in the past to develop vaccines against the common cold, but these efforts have failed. The problem is that the coronavirus mutates frequently, and more importantly the immunity from the vaccines seems to be very temporary. The immunity from a common cold infection also seems to be very temporary. How many times have you had more than one cold during the winter?
The test results that have been shared with the American public via the media suggest that the vaccine works very well during the 1st 3 months. Some of the patients were in the 2nd 3 months, but follow-up beyond 3-6 months is not yet present. We do know that there are a few patients who had asked for COVID-19 who now are developing new infections with COVID and therefore even the natural infection does not provide long-term protection to everyone.
Therefore, the efficacy of the vaccines remains to be determined in the future. We may need to get vaccinations every 3 months, every 6 months but almost certainly every year.
Thus, even if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, social distancing and handwashing will always remain very important and masks may become a permanent feature in our lives.
There has been a lot of talk in the media about a twindemic. What this is referring to is that we have just entered the time for influenza to begin to rear its ugly head. And ugly it is. Historically, influenza kills 36,000-98,000 Americans every year. Clearly not as bad as CORONA-19 has been this year, but when you think that influenza has been around for centuries, it certainly has taken a huge toll of humans year after year.
I personally do not think that there will be a twindemic. Why do I say that? Because the same things that we are doing to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will also prevent the spread of influenza.
Australia was just entering their traditional influenza season when the pandemic hit them. There is statistics showed very nicely that the number of influenza cases and hospitalizations was lower than any time in recent history. Even in United States, during the second half of the 2019-2020 influenza season, the number of influenza cases plummeted. This very nicely shows how important these protective measures are for preventing influenza. In the past, how many people went to work sick with influenza because they felt they had to. Did they wear masks? Did their coworkers wear masks? Did they or their coworkers wash their hands frequently? Did they practice social distancing? The answer to these questions is NO. Surprisingly NO!
Perhaps the most important thing that the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has done is to make us aware of the things that we can do to prevent the spread of all viruses and to begin to make it socially acceptable to do these things. This time last year, most of us would have laughed at our coworkers if they wore masks and socially distanced. This year we expect everyone to wear masks and socially distance.
This blog is meant to encourage everyone to continue safe practices not only while visiting Denver Fertility, but I implore you to do so in your personal life as well. It is very easy to wear a mask everywhere (the governor has strongly suggested that we all do this) and to wash hands frequently or carry hand sanitizer and use it frequently. And by all means try to socially distance.
We all are getting cabin fever and want to get out and go places. Many of us have already taken trips both by car and airplane to places where we could unknowingly be exposed to the COVID-19 virus. If we are using safe practices, we will not be exposing ourselves, our families or our coworkers to any substantial risk.
As we try to get back to the "old normal," it is important to realize that we may never get back to the old normal. We have to start thinking about the "new normal." The new normal includes the three things that have been shown to prevent or at least dramatically reduce the chances of contracting COVID-19.