On Wednesday Dr. Dan Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi, who own seven Accelerated Urgent Care facilities in Kern County, Calif., gave a press conference to local media. They extrapolated from their own COVID-19 data, along with data sets nationwide and globally. Using this data, their own medical knowledge and information gathered from conversations with their colleagues around the country, they presented a compelling case, which included unreported health risks related to sheltering in place, for ending the severe shutdowns.
Both doctors understand and support the initial reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak by the federal, state and local governments. It was a novel virus and there was very limited information. However, now they assert that the data is telling them that the disease pattern of COVID-19 is more like the flu. Dr. Erickson phrased it this way, “Millions of cases, a small number of deaths.” He specifically noted that the difference in the number of deaths between Sweden, with limited restrictions, and Norway, which locked down, is not statistically significant.
“Lockdown versus non-lockdown did not produce a statistically different number of deaths. That is the bottom line,” said Erickson.
Throughout the briefing he emphasized that decision making going forward needs to be based on data, not predictive models. This echoes comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci during press briefings. And we have all watched the predictive models be radically adjusted as actual data has been loaded into them.
Their data extrapolations, using a method similar to the one the CDC uses for influenza, suggest that death rates for COVID-19 are similar to those for the flu. According to their analysis, both Kern County and the state of California have likely experienced a widespread viral infection. They both agreed this is almost certain in New York as well. Based on their analysis, the death rate varies from 0.03% in California to 0.1% in New York state. This will be confirmed by additional testing finding new cases for the same number of deaths.
In addition to asserting that this is much more comparable to the flu than originally thought, the doctors present additional information to support their point of view. First, they discussed the rise in mental illness and abuse their clinics and local providers are seeing. This includes an increase in child molestation, domestic abuse, alcohol and drug-related emergencies, and mental health diagnoses.
Next, they were very clear on how self-isolation can actually compromise the immune system in otherwise healthy people. Dr. Erickson explained that the immune system is actually built by exposure to pathogens. Coming in contact with viruses and bacteria in the environment fires the body’s system for fighting infection. Additionally, the normal flora, or good germs we have on and in us all the time, also drop when we isolate.
The combination of reducing regular exposure to pathogens in the environment and lowering the good bacteria that helps us fight off infection, concerns both physicians. By reserving nearly all healthcare system assets to treat COVID-19, the available capacity of the system in their area has actually contracted. Two hospital floors are closed. Healthcare workers have been furloughed. In this environment, they worry about an increase in opportunistic infections that will strain the remaining resources as people get back to more normal activities if the isolation of healthy individuals continues.
Next, they say the current guidelines are not backed by science. Dr. Erickson repeated the finding that COVID-19 can live on plastic for three days. So, when you go to Costco or Home Depot, you pick up needed items that may carry COVID-19. He added that it is because of these fomites, inanimate objects that can carry and transfer disease, it is highly likely COVID-19 would be found if your home or car were sampled.
Additionally, there is no science that says it is safer to go to Costco than it is to go to the small local restaurant for lunch. In the opinion of both doctors, the current guidelines are not based on rational thinking. They also think people should absolutely be spending time outside. Dr. Massihi said keeping people indoors can cause Vitamin D deficiencies which further impact immune function and can cause a depressed mood.
Dr. Erickson then explained that the vast majority of people were dying with COVID-19, not from COVID-19. He said after viewing hundreds of autopsies in his career, people rarely die for one reason. A body that has been weakened by chronic disease is not as able to fight off infection. He compared this to deaths with the flu. Most often it is just one of a number of illnesses a patient is suffering with.
With the predictable negatives of self-isolation and the economic pain they are causing, the doctors are calling on political leaders to begin letting the healthy adults return to normal activities. They even say that this should happen without masks and other types of PPE. For those with preexisting conditions or who are immunocompromised, the use of PPE and self-isolation may still be the correct advice. However, for the 95% of individuals who will recover without significant intervention, they say it’s time to end the restrictions and continue testing.
Dr. Massihi said the fear of the unknown is understandable. But giving people accurate information is a way that fear can be reduced. According to the data on deaths for otherwise healthy individuals, the number of deaths is “infinitesimal.” He is equally worried about the person who has abdominal pain and fever and is too scared to seek care. So their appendix ruptures at home and they end up hospitalized with a severe infection. Or any individual with a minor medical problem that will have a bigger impact because care is delayed.
While most of the press conference remained focused on the science and medicine, they did share that their colleagues in emergency medicine around the country report they are being pressured to add a diagnosis of COVID-19. They did not speculate as to why this was happening, but indicated they found it odd.
And Dr. Erickson did hit back at journalists who were challenging his assumptions. At the end of the briefing, he was challenged on why he thought he was smarter than the Dr. Faucis of the world and state health officials. He was clear this was not about being smarter or right. He is using data and his own clinical experience to make these recommendations for his own community and others like them. Essentially pretending everyone is going to be New York is not the correct approach.
He also shot back at reporters who are being paid while their fellow citizens are not. His closing was also a caution worth taking note of:
Who says what’s safe? Are you smart enough to know what is safe for you? Or is it the government gonna tell you what’s safe for you? As soon as they use the word safe, that means control. ‘We know what’s safe for you. You’re too dumb to understand disease. We know what’s safe.’ And so, they are going to use this model for different things. ‘We got a bomb threat from China. Everybody stay in their home for three months.’ They [the government] are using this to see how much of your freedom can they take from you. Will you roll over and stay in your house? And it’s working.
Amen, sir. Let’s get America back to work.
LIVE: Local doctor from Accelerated Urgent Care gives his take on COVID-19 in Kern County
Posted by KGET – TV 17 Bakersfield on Wednesday, April 22, 2020
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