COVID-19 Q&A: today’s big questions with even bigger answers

With Dr. Bill Lydiatt, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Medical Affairs at Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women’s Hospital

NatalieCusick & EmilySalzman

Q: How have our numbers changed, and what are they in relation to other states?

A: We look at hospitalizations and ICU care. When we saw our peak, which was at the end of May, we had approximately 35 patients at our maximum; about 10-15 were in the ICU. Two weeks ago, we hit 99 people and about 25-30 in the ICU, and of those, about 10-15 on ventilators. 

From the standpoint of our state numbers in terms of per capita, we’re actually very high; we’re in the top 20 percent or maybe even a little higher.

Q: Which demographic(s) are the sickest now?

A: Mostly young people are getting it; mostly old people are being hospitalized.

70 percent of people in Douglas County with COVID-19 are under age 50 and only about 7 percent are over age 70. Whereas people over age 75 represent maybe 6 percent of the people that have it, they are over 58 percent of the deaths.

Q: What should people be doing right now?

A: Without a doubt, I think the most important things are staying away from groups (especially when you’re eating and drinking), washing your hands and avoiding crowds. Avoid confined spaces, crowded places and wear a mask. 

I think as an individual, you can best honor the nurses and doctors that are caring for people in very unpleasant situations, seeing people die, going through really traumatic times and being physically uncomfortable wearing the PPE by not getting the disease, and you can best not get the disease by doing those things. 

Q: What do you foresee happening with the holidays?

A: I see two different stories: one is if people really start to understand the severity of this and the fact that we are getting close to capacity. If we don’t socially distance and we don’t have small groups, then it’s going to be a catastrophic December; a December where we don’t have space in our hospitals.

Q: How long will we be “living with the virus?”

A: I think we’re going to be living with the virus for years, but I think we’re probably going to see the vaccines be remarkably effective. But there’s not enough of them right now, so it’s going to take probably through the spring and summer before we get enough of the population to get the vaccines to really make a difference. I would anticipate [in] the next three months to have a lot of people in the hospital with COVID-19. 

Q: When the vaccine comes out, how will it be administered? Who will get it first? How will this change things?

A: Initially, it’ll be health care workers and first responders, very closely followed by people that are older that have other health issues. I suspect that’ll be all that will get the vaccines through the winter. Probably in March, April and May is when they’ll be more available. If we have enough people vaccinated, then the virus doesn’t have the same opportunity to have these big outbreaks because more people are going to have at least some immunity.

That’s our biggest problem now, more so than beds: staff. We have nurses that are sick, physicians that are sick, and so it’s really about the staff. It takes more effort to care for a COVID-19 patient typically because they stay in the hospital longer and require more work by the nurses. 

Q: Will next school year be normal? When do you anticipate normalcy?

A: I think we will see higher percentages of people in class in [the] spring. I think next fall we will see normalcy in terms of people not having tele-education. However, I wouldn’t rule out that we’ll still be wearing masks. I think we’ll see more people wearing masks, much like Asia, when they’re in denser situations.

Some feel like, “I’m young, COVID-19 won’t bother me,” and it is true, but there are long-term effects. I was just talking to a physician who showed me his CT scan and it looked terrible. He said, “I don’t feel bad,” but you see all that change on the CT scan and you worry that he’s going to have long-term lung problems, and he’s in his 30s. I worry that there are long-term effects that people don’t recognize yet.

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