“I am a family doctor and I am terrified,” Maura McLaughlin wrote early Friday morning on Facebook. Maura and her husband, Tim, own Blue Ridge Family Practice in Crozet. She was referring to the alarming rise of coronavirus cases throughout the world, including recent increases throughout the US.
Based on available data, McLaughlin computed the potential local mortality if significant containment measures are not instituted before the disease is widespread. Her calculations show that Crozet itself (population rounded out to 10,000) could expect to see between 40 and 238 deaths, using estimated infection rates that vary between 40% and 70% (based on estimates by Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch) and mortality rates that range between 1% (CDC estimate) and and 3.4% (WHO estimate).
She also noted the available data that breaks down mortality risk by age (source).
- Over 80 years old: 14.8%
- Over 70 years old: 8%
- Over 60 years old: 3.6%
- Over 50 years old: 1.3%
- Over 40 years old: 0.4%
- 10-39 years old: 0.2%
The virus that causes COVID-19 has such a high infection rate in part because people can have very mild symptoms, similar to the common cold, and unknowingly transmit the virus to more vulnerable people who are more likely to experience a severe form of the illness and have a higher risk of death. The only way that has been demonstrated to control (slow, not eliminate) the spread of this virus is widespread “social distancing,” which needs to be instituted before the virus has become widespread, in order to be most effective.
No confirmed cases are known in the Albemarle area currently, however, this should not necessarily be viewed as reassuring, as testing is exceedingly limited, and symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to other common viral illnesses.
In the letter, the McLaughlins noted that their advice for social distancing––working from home if possible, taking children out of school, avoiding the gym as well as any social, religious, sports or community gatherings—goes well beyond what was recommended by state health authorities at the time of the writing (find them here), but it is what they’re doing as a family and recommending to patients. They wrote: “The time to do this is NOW, before we have widespread transmission in our local community. This protects you and your family, but also protects the vulnerable members of our community.”
“We need to slow the spread of this virus by these social distancing measures, so that our hospitals do not get overwhelmed. Italy has not had enough ventilators (breathing machines) to keep all the patients who need them alive. Doctors in the U.S. are now discussing the best ways to clean and re-use protective equipment that is meant to be disposed of, because the supply is so limited. Practicing social distancing can help to prevent a large number of patients needing the limited number of intensive care unit beds and ventilators at the same time.”
“The only known way to reduce COVID-19 deaths in a community is for all of us to practice social distancing, including those who feel fine. I don’t want everyone else to feel terrified. But I do want everyone to take this extremely seriously.”
“We, in our community of Crozet, have the opportunity to do what is right for each other. Let’s do it.”