Doctors face new COVID-19 challenge

By Physician Sense
Published May 10, 2020

Key Takeaways

Globally, there are now more than 4 million cases of COVID-19. And in the U.S., the death toll is about to surpass 80,000. These sobering statistics emerge after much of the northeast was hit with May snowstorms, hail, and rain. Many woke up on Sunday, Mother’s Day, to more Spring-like conditions. The temptation to go and see mom is real. But so are the potential consequences, as a quick scan of the weekend’s headlines will show you.

Here’s what you might have missed.

Weekend headlines

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will begin what he’s calling a “modified quarantine” after a “low risk” contact with an infected person, CNN reports. He joins Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who were also exposed and will be quarantining. Fauci and other officials scheduled to appear before a Senate committee this week will do so remotely, CNN reports.

  • Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, was positive for COVID-19 as of Friday, the New York Times reports. She is often at coronavirus press briefings with Trump, Pence, and the health officials.

  • Eleven members of the secret service have also tested positive for COVID-19, Business Insider reports.

  • The FDA has approved the first antigen-detection COVID-19 test, the New York Times reports. It’s another nasal-swab test that will require processing in Quidel Corporation labs.

  • The FDA has also approved a Rutgers University test that uses saliva and can be administered at home. This is the second test produced by the university. The first was a 45-minute nasal swab test.

  • A new preprint study shows that COVID-19 patients who also were taking famotidine were less likely to die, CNN reports. The researchers, however, were very cautious, saying that physicians should wait to prescribe famotidine until more data are available. 

  • UFC became the first professional sport to return this weekend, with bouts taking place in a spectatorless Florida arena. Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza dropped from the card after he tested positive for COVID-19, CNN reports. Two of his cornermen also tested positive.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his plan to reopen the United Kingdom, CNN reports. He’s encouraging anyone who can’t work from home, such as contractors, to return to work as normal.

  • South Korea’s president is warning of a second wave of infections after clusters started to pop up in the country, Reuters reports.

Looking ahead

Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on this week:

Anti-vax is back

Well, it probably never went away. But right now, the spotlight is back on the movement, if you can call it that. You might have seen or have heard about a widely circulated trailer for a documentary called Plandemic. The premises asserted by the discredited researcher in the trailer have been systematically dismantled, but the damage has been done.

If you scan photos from recent open America protests, you’ll notice a smattering of anti-vax signs. And if your Facebook feed looks anything like ours, you’ll also notice an abundance of YouTube videos and stories of dubious origin making all sorts of allegations about Fauci, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and even the so-called New World Order. 

We’re all subject to cognitive biases and fallacies. This recent Forbes post does a pretty good job of explaining why some are so drawn to conspiracy theories. Perhaps the most compelling point in this NASA scientist-authored post is the problem of the false equivalence fallacy. 

Physicians likely see this all the time in the popular press. In journalism school, when reporting on non-scientific matters, we’re taught to find sources with opposing views to balance the story and let the reader decide for themselves. The problem is that, as you know, this format does not represent the consensus-oriented discipline of science. Science, of course, welcomes opposing views and tests conflicting hypotheses rigorously. But when the dust is settled, it’s definitively settled because the opposing hypotheses have been tested by an order of magnitude. Dredging up one scientist who clings to a disproved hypothesis doth not equivalency make. 

The Takeaway: How might you, as a physician, communicate this to patients, friends, or family members who are incorrect in their beliefs? A COVID-19 vaccine is coming, and it has the potential to save lives, but only if people decide to receive it.

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