Like most health care providers across the state, Jackson Doctor Brent Blue wants people to take precautions and follow rules for social distancing. What he doesn't want to see is people panic over COVID-19. Dr. Blue tells Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck that numbers are going up in the state and there are logical reasons for that.
Brent Blue: Certainly, a significant amount of what the academics call compliance fatigue, where people are tired of being, you know, kept in their homes or tired of social distancing and wearing a mask and so on. I think we're seeing a fair amount of that.
Bob Beck: The thing that I see in Laramie and I think some other people in the state have run into is that, not only are you correct about the fatigue, but they've just kind of quit social distancing. And that's led to at the very least the Evanston situation, where we've seen a little bit of a blow-up. Do people just really have to focus on being vigilant about these things?
Blue: Well, I think that what is really important is people have to focus on their own individual health. And that means eating appropriately, exercise, and getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and doing everything they can to keep their own immune system healthy. You know, the far majority of people who contract the COVID-19 virus have minimal to no symptoms. And the people who tend to get the sickness are the people who have underlying conditions, especially obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
So, when you talk about the average healthy 20-year-old, it's going to be hard to convince them that they need to do anything to maintain social distancing, just because the virus is not going to be a significant factor for them. And of course, the great advantage we have here in Wyoming is we have so much fresh air and open spaces that even with droplet spread, the amount of dispersion of those droplets is significant when you're outdoors and the air is blowing and so on.
Beck: Earlier this week you said something I found very interesting that I wanted to ask you about. You've run into situations where people who have a concern about COVID-19 might exceed reality a little bit. Could you talk a little bit about what you've encountered?
Blue: Well, I think that there's no question about the fact that the panic is going to cause more of a problem than the pandemic. And it's going to be with us for quite some time because it's creating a significant amount of anxiety in the public and neuroses in the public. I've had one person who was admitted for a bleeding ulcer who was a 32-year-old, otherwise healthy fellow because he was so worried about contracting the virus and spreading it to his mother. I've had people call me up and one woman who called me and asked me how to open a box that came to her home from UPS. Because she was afraid of contracting the virus from the box, which is really not a risk factor at all. It is pretty dramatic and it can be overwhelming for people. And we're seeing that. And then, of course, the other side of that, too is that the effect on the economy when you have unemployment, the number of suicides goes up linearly with the amount of unemployment, so that's a significant risk that's going to be with us in the future. So, I think it's very important for people to really think about what their real risk is and to talk to their health care professionals, talk to counselors and learn how to deal with the real risk in a in a realistic way.
Beck: So what should I be afraid of and what shouldn't I be afraid of?
Blue: That's always a difficult question because the question is, are you afraid of the flu, and are you afraid of getting a cold? It's pretty similar to what you would have with the Coronavirus. The difference is that this virus has not been around before, so no one has a natural immunity to it initially. And that's something that will build up over time and in the population.
So really to some extent, it's not a matter of if someone is going to eventually catch the COVID-19 virus, but when they're going to catch it. And as I was saying before, the most important thing is what we say to people all the time and that is, it's important to stay healthy and stay fit. And this should be a wakeup call for anyone who's overweight or who is not taking care of their health. Who's not exercising and not eating right. I mean, you can't eat fast food every day and expect your immune system to be good.
Beck: I don't want to compare this to the flu, but at the same time there does seem to be similarities with other viruses. When we hear about an outbreak, normally we try to distance ourselves from other people. Is your advice to do that and not get too concerned about it or too anxious about it?
Blue: You know, people don't want to compare it to the flu. But when you look at the number of hospitalizations, even on the most recent numbers, the serious or critical cases is running about 1.5% of the people who are tested positive. And that's probably even a lower percentage when you think about the people who are positive who haven't been tested and that's probably the majority of people in this country.
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