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I'm an ER Doctor and Urge You Read This Now

The Delta variant is aggressively spreading throughout the United States as I write this article. Hospitals in Southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Texas and Florida are being overwhelmed. The summer surge in many areas has been fueled by low vaccination rates, lax public health and an extremely infectious variant. Many who have refused vaccination are now dying. Meantime, school is starting again in person across the US. I'm the father of 8 year old and 13 year old boys and my school district has mandated masks for in-person learning. I am also Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Sidney Kimmel Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University. When the school board discussed the issue, I attended by Zoom and endured multiple misinformed speeches by members of my community. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

  • One man stated that masks are not proven to work and are damaging to our children. (Notably, masks do work and there is significant published data to support this as well as CDC publications.) 
  • Another misinformed person stated that the vaccines were not proven to prevent COVID
  • Another individual stated that it was her right to decide whether to wear a mask. She equated it to eating junk food — if she wanted to be fat and junk food, it wasn't anyone's business. The key difference, of course, is that eating donuts in public will not potentially infect other people in the community and thereby spread disease and potential death.

The school board meeting as a whole was incredibly depressing to witness and endure. Another individual said that COVID-19 wasn't dangerous to children and that masks are not necessary. Of course, given the new Delta variant, this statement is simply not true. We are seeing an increase in pediatric COVID admissions. In Louisiana, the pediatric hospitals are filled with COVID patients. 

I did not want to speak but I felt I had to. I explained that the vaccines do, in fact, work, as they are effective at preventing hospitalization and death. Breakthrough infections can and do occur but vaccinated individuals are unlikely to die or be hospitalized as a result. I also explained the risk of breakthrough infections and general infectiousness to unvaccinated individuals is why masks are necessary. I also told them that the virus is more infectious than influenza and that the Delta variant is even more infectious than the UK variant. The virus is spread primarily indoors by aerosol in the air and this is why masks are necessary. In addition, I explained that eating lunch indoors and obviously unmasked, as the district planned to do, was potentially dangerous. In hospitals, where we are masked at all times, many outbreaks have been linked to eating with others in breakrooms. I am not sure I changed anybody's mind but I had to speak these truths.

After I spoke, a member of the community stated that the doctor on the phone (that would be me) made debatable points. He said he could find healthcare professionals that would say the opposite of my statements. No credible doctor could refute my statements, which were accurate and measured, yet the man said this. I couldn't believe the arrogance and ignorance. 

In the Emergency Department, I continue to see patients infected with COVID who could have been vaccinated but refused. It is with a sense of depression and frustration that I broach the subject with them. The other night, I was treating an elderly patient. He was being admitted to the hospital (for a non-COVID related issue) and his wife, also quite elderly, was with him. I asked if they were vaccinated and they said no. He didn't think the vaccine was tested enough and he and his wife were concerned with how quickly it came to market. "Well," I told him, "the mRNA vaccines are extremely safe and effective." I explained that some of the greatest predictors of death were age. So, I explained that they were playing a dangerous game. 'If you get COVID," I said, "you both have a very high chance of death." Given their age, I thought it was approximately over 14%. Essentially, around 1 in 6 – a toss of the dice. I told them that no drug or vaccine had ever been given to so many people pending approval. Most FDA approved drugs have studies involving thousands of people. These vaccines had such studies plus surveillance data from millions of vaccine recipients. The idea that we needed more data pending approval was, frankly, ridiculous. 

RELATED: I'm a Doctor and Here's How to Not Catch Delta

Well, here we are, fights at the school board about common sense preventive interventions to protect our children and people refusing safe vaccines in favor of risking death. I'm not sure how to fix this situation. Somehow, we need to remove the politics and just get back to the public health and medicine regarding this crisis. COVID is not going anywhere at the moment. The pandemic continues to evolve and cases will assuredly climb again this fall and winter. I wish I could stop all the lies and misinformation but people seem entrenched in their ignorance. For the record, my fully-vaccinated older son will attend school in-person but not eat indoors, and my younger son will be virtual until he's fully vaccinated. I certainly would rather my younger son not be isolated from his peers yet again, but as his father it's my duty to use the information I have to keep him safe. 

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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