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Students+talk+with+infectious+disease+and+coronavirus+expert+Dr.+James+Lawler+on+the+facts+and+fiction+of+coronavirus.

Graphic by Caroline Hobson

Students talk with infectious disease and coronavirus expert Dr. James Lawler on the facts and fiction of coronavirus.

High school students vs coronavirus expert: What are the myths? What are the facts?

January 14, 2021

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/00oat

When the deadly spread of a virus comes to mind, many think of nursing homes, hospitals, and people over the age of 70 being the ones responsible for the recent spikes in cases. But what if experts and new case studies told you it was young people (aged 16-24) who are guilty of the spread?

New studies are finding that teens and young adults are more likely to socialize, spend time with friends, and attend large parties with crowds. This summer alone the country saw a record-high spike in cases among 16-24-year-olds, and these numbers have surged again.

It’s no big deal right? The virus doesn’t kill young people… right?

Students and young adults were reassured in the beginning months of the pandemic that their demographic were least likely to develop lifelong issues and potentially die from covid, giving many a false immunity state of mind, which, in turn, puts the community in danger. 

This has just created more issues for people who are actually at risk. Say you, a 17-year-old, attends a party with a huge crowd of people, and you contract covid. It’s no big deal to you, but to your grandparents, immunocompromised sister, and diabetic mother it is a life or death situation. 

These facts and myths have been circulating, leading many teens to believe incorrect theories about what is safe and what is not. Dr. James Lawler, a board-certified infectious disease doctor, is helping young people across the country understand the importance of staying safe during the pandemic.

It is more than just washing your hands and wearing a mask. He is helping young people determine facts from fiction and helping prevent the spread of, not only the virus, but also the huge wave of misinformation that comes with it. 

As Executive Director of International Programs and Innovation at the Global Center for Health Security and the director of clinical and biodefense research at the National Sertuguis Research Institute In Nebraska, Dr. Lawler has spent a lifetime leading teams of researchers.  

For the past 10 months, his sole focus has been on Covid-19.

Dr. Lawler spent a career in the Navy as a commander and clinical biodefense researcher at the Naval Medical Research Center in Fort Detrick. He served on two different White House assignments as Homeland Security consul and on the national security council where he worked on biodefense, and pandemic response, and health preparedness. He then retired and moved from Maryland to Nebraska to take on new roles both in and out of the medical field. 

He has been involved with Ebola patients in Africa. At the beginning of this current pandemic, he was instrumental in working with the first American passengers on the first cruise ship to have a major outbreak on board. 

The last time the world faced anything like this strain of coronavirus was in 1918 at the end of World War I. A pandemic of Spanish influenza swept around the world, historians and scientists estimate that about one-third of the world’s population became infected with the virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. 

Worldwide, with an estimated 72.6 million cases and 1.62 million deaths,  means the world could see a 45.2 percent increase in cases from the Spanish Influenza. 

Dr. James Lawler: Infectious disease expert gives Covid-19 facts and advice

Girl+Scout+Troop+81240+meets+with+Dr.+James+Lawler+on+Zoom+to+discuss+the+facts+and+myths+of+Covid-19.

Courtesy of Gabriella Paplilo (troop 81240)

Girl Scout Troop 81240 meets with Dr. James Lawler on Zoom to discuss the facts and myths of Covid-19.

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/r0r31

The following is advice that Dr. James Lawler, edited from a recorded interview in December.

For this particular virus, there are a few things to keep in mind. Fortunately, Covid-19 does not appear to cause severe illness in young people, and, for the most part, children are spared. The most severe manifestations of the disease are fairly rare.

This does not exempt the transmission from the young to elderly people, thus increasing the death rate when cases increase among young people. 

Unfortunately, children and teens can acquire the infection and spread the infection at a rate similar to adults. That is still controversial even among experts at this point, but I think that ultimately as we are able to analyze for information we are going to appreciate more and more that even young kids contribute to community transmission.

Young adults are an important factor in driving the transmission of the disease within the community and, with more safe behaviors, decreasing the spread.

Misconceptions on exposure and severity of the virus

We know from many other viral diseases, the more you are exposed to the virus, the more likely you are to have a severe, life-threatening effect. 

In some virus transmissions of a small minority, one virus particle or one bacterium can be enough to cause infection and make you sick. But for the vast majority of transmissions, that’s not the case. You often need thousands, even millions of bacteria or virus particles to make you sick. 

We don’t know what the infectious dose of most people is for the coronavirus but it most likely is in the many thousands of virus particles. That’s why a casual brush with somebody who may be sick and not wearing a mask probably, in part, holds a little risk. But if you stand by someone for hours, or you’re at an indoor party for hours on end, that is as much a longer period of time for exposure and transmission.

It may be a low concentration of the virus, but, because you spend so much time there, it can be a relatively high dosage and exposure.

The 6-foot rule is not magical. We, unfortunately, have put way too much emphasis on that rule because we know that aerosols can travel beyond 6 feet. However, moving around and standing in spaces where people have already spread their unmasked germs makes the 6 feet rule useless. 

The best way to prevent the spread is to stay home, wear a mask when out, and avoid large gatherings or unmasked events.

The speed of the vaccine, is it a concern?

The vaccine has been approved under what’s called an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s good news that we have evidence that the vaccine works based on clinical trials, healthcare workers and politicians were some of the first to receive the vaccine in mid to late December.

Because nobody knew what the clinical trial was going to show, doctors and researchers set up huge trials with thousands of people to gather data on the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

This large group of people was randomly split up: Some were to receive the trial vaccine while others were to receive a placebo (harmless substance with no physical effect). The researchers then watched them see how many people got sick and how many remained well. 

As more people in the placebo group begin to get sick, and few people in the vaccine group, you start to tell the difference and observe the effectiveness of the vaccine.

They wait until they get a certain number, which is close to about 100. They will take that infected group to the data safety monitoring board, an independent group of doctors and scientists, and “break the code.” 

Researchers saw a huge protective effect of about 90% which is impressive for a vaccine. They were expecting about 50-60%. That’s why the timeline for the vaccine was so up in the air.

They had enough of a difference between the vaccinated and unvaccinated group that they could say statistically it is such a small chance that this will be a random event. 

Producing enough vaccines for everyone will take a while. I’m expecting it to be in the spring or summer that we give a large portion of the American people the vaccine. 

Who will be receiving the vaccine

Many researchers have looked at vaccine prioritization. Ultimately it’s the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will make the official recommendations and distribute the vaccine they are advised by what’s called the advisory committee on immunization practice (ACIP), a group of doctors and scientists who are independent until the CDC tells them what to do next. 

They (ACIP) have come to the conclusion that the first group of people to receive the vaccination will be health care workers because they are at great risk and almost constant exposure.

If our health care workers are sick and unable to take care of us, then everyone else suffers. 

After that it’s a debate who comes second. Right now, the recommendation is the most vulnerable people. But more data will need to be seen based on how effective the vaccine is to those vulnerable people who are generally older. If it’s more effective in kids, then the best way to protect the community might actually be to vaccinate children, but it can take months to decide. 

Different strands of Covid-19

Viruses mutate. Ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus, what the coronavirus is, are genetic sequences. RNA is much more unstable than Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) mutations.

There are a lot of different varieties and “flavors” of the virus that can be seen in terms of sequences. 

So far we haven’t seen any mutant strands that are significantly more deadly; however, we are still learning and constantly getting new information. Overall, I would say right now there doesn’t appear to be too significant of a difference. 

Working while asymptomatic 

In many places such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, and essential businesses, people have no choice but to go to work and risk being exposed. These places are overwhelmed with the number of patients they treat daily, and now healthcare workers are suffering and getting sick because of the community they work in.

Hospitals are overwhelmed. They need every healthcare provider they can get. It’s sad. Unfortunately, the reason coronavirus is so out of control is because people refuse to make the right choices and do the things that are necessary to prevent spread. and then it’s the healthcare workers that are bearing the brunt of that, but that’s the way things are right now.  

Doctors are suffering from an overwhelming case of numbers and hospitalizations. and they don’t have enough staff right now to take care of all the patients. They can’t afford to let anybody go right now who can potentially be on the job of saving a life. 

In all honestly, there is not much I can say.

Wearing masks during high cardio exercise  

It’s clear overall that wearing face masks is very safe. They have been worn for decades in healthcare. It is a matter of protecting others from your germs (covid or not). It is true they can get uncomfortable, especially when they get sweaty and damp while doing exercise. 

It’s commonly argued that masks restrict breathing and are uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s just a function of the material that you choose to use as a mask. The material that is waterproof or water-wicking can help to not feel as uncomfortable. That doesn’t impede your work of breathing. 

Professional and college athletes are practicing and playing sports while face masks are on and are able to tolerate it well. The super peak of professional level athletes may degrade slightly in performance just based on the mask.

However, for most high school level athletes, it’s not going to significantly impact your ability to train and play. It’s more mental than anything else.

Contact tracing and risk apps

If the app had widespread adoption, it would be similar to what South Korea has already done. They were able to handle the virus well while using the apps and monitoring to prevent the spread.

If the majority of US citizens put the app on their phone and agreed to register and update with symptoms or a positive test, then we could have more success with the apps. 

If we could get a lot of people to use it, then it would be a helpful tool, but I’m not confident we could get widespread adoption in the United States. Unfortunately, in some counties maybe the app could help, but a nationwide app or alert would not be possible. 

There are many countries and areas that are using similar tools to control the spread of the virus, not only in South Korea but Hong Kong, Vietnam, and many other neighboring countries. These countries use high tech approaches to develop proper contact tracing and slow the spread. 

The different types of tests

It’s good to differentiate between the different types of tests being run and the sample that is being run on, which are two different things. So when you get the sample, whether it is nasal, swab, or saliva, it matters, but not nearly enough as the test machine you are using. 

The deep brain biopsy swab is the best and most accurate, but we are learning, and it’s probably true that the internal nasal swab or even saliva gives you good enough direction with a high performance that detects the genetic sequence is still good enough. 

A Polymerase Chain Reaction test or a PCR test is more effective at testing for Covid because most of the PCR tests are done by trusted machines inside of hospitals, rather than the rapid and quick tests done at testing sites. Unlike the brain biopsy swab, which detects protein fragments specific to the coronavirus, the PCR test is a molecular test that detects the genetic material (RNA) of the virus using a lab technique called the Polymerase Chain Reaction. 

The problem is that the supply chain for those machines can only make so many at a time, and since they are the most effective and accurate in testing for Covid, they are in the highest demand. Nobody is able to get the cartridges that are used to load the machines or get the machines themselves for widespread use. 

Surfaces 

I think it’s true that the virus can be transmitted through inanimate objects and surfaces, but is particularly high touch and contact surfaces like doorknobs, handles, elevator buttons, etc. 

In experimental environments, it’s proven that the virus can stay on surfaces for a long period of time (hours to days) but also remember that a high dose is needed to get sick. 

When coming into contact with high touch surfaces, remember to not use a bare finger or hand. Use your sleeve or something else, an elbow, or wear a glove even. 

There are many things you can do to prevent touching. 

Be conscious of not touching your face when out in public. The risk of inanimate objects is fairly low. We’re learning, and I think we’re going to realize, that it’s far more important the aerosol component of the transmission. 

 

 

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High school students talk about their understanding of Covid-19

Caroline+Hobson+and+Madeline+Hull+posing+for+a+picture+while+wearing+face-masks+back+in+March+2020.+

Madeline Hull

Caroline Hobson and Madeline Hull posing for a picture while wearing face-masks back in March 2020.

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/jusdw

There’s a tendency for people to think, “It doesn’t cause severe disease so why should I be concerned?” “It’s not going to put me in the hospital.” “It’s not going to kill me.” That’s probably true for most high school aged people. 

An even bigger problem is the overwhelming desire to return to school. All of us have to take responsibility in order to get that done.

When you wear a face mask. When you don’t go to the party your friends are going to. It’s not necessarily that you’re protecting yourself.

You are protecting your grandparents and your parents, the older couple down the street. So it’s really important for us all to work together because what we do in the community and what we do individually, has an effect that’s a lot more widespread than we realize. Numbers in the children (0-12), teen (13-17), and young adult (18-24) population are the highest on record. 

“Prevention and procedure are very crucial right now for everyone in order to protect themselves and those around them. The threat of Covid can lessen if we all follow the rules and stay safe. Staying at home, not going to large gatherings, and just taking precautions is something that will protect everyone in the long run,” said junior Daniela Gerardi. 

Everything we do in this pandemic is going to have repercussions and consequences that we often can’t see, but they are real.

“It is so incredibly frustrating to still see the argument that the virus is a ‘hoax’, anti-mask wearers, or those who are still choosing to gather. There has been so much unnecessary suffering due to people choosing to be selfish and not see the world beyond the tip of their nose,” said senior Mackenzie Berry. 

This pandemic isn’t easy for any of us, but knowing that teens are now the driving factor of the spread, and most still go on with their lives like it’s nothing, is something incredibly unfair and frightening to others around them. 

Student misconceptions on exposure and severity of the virus 

Virus exposure is something that many teens and young adults aren’t familiar with. When asked, many students did not know the prolonged exposure effect. 

Prolonged exposure is not shared often in the news and is something that should be explained better, not only to teens, but also to adults to gain a better understanding of being in exposure to the virus. 

“I did not know about the long-term virus exposure, and after learning about it I am going to try and limit my exposure more than I am already doing. Limiting exposure is something simple that can keep many others safe,” said junior Mary Bailey. 

This is something we can all do to keep others around us safe. Limiting your time out, whether it be masked or unmasked, can make all the difference. After learning about the prolonged exposure, it adds to the fear and uncertainty that so many people already face when going out to public places.

The speed of the vaccine: is it a concern? 

There are many rumors quickly spreading that the vaccine is unsafe and hasn’t undergone enough testing for proper use. This misinformation is making many believe that the vaccine is not safe, and opting out of taking it. While opting out of taking the vaccine is completely fine, and 100% a choice, the vaccine can help others not get sick.

While some label the vaccine as unsafe, or a government scheme others completely trust what the scientists and researchers have been putting years of backed research into.

“I absolutely trust the vaccine and plan on receiving it as soon as possible. We are incredibly fortunate to live in an age and society where this medicine is available to us. I believe that receiving the vaccine is also our responsibility as citizens to protect ourselves and others,” said Berry.

These same people who claim that the vaccine is unsafe are typically the ones who know very little about medicine and what goes into researching and producing the vaccine. 

“It astounds me that people who claim they won’t be taking the vaccine because they ‘don’t trust what’s in it;’ however, these are the same people that smoke or vape, eat fast food, and put loads of untested chemicals into their bodies without knowing the effects. The exact same arguments could be made for all of those things, and personally, I trust the country’s most intelligent scientists with the vaccine over the opinions of a few who don’t know anything about medicine,” said Berry.

Whether you choose to get the vaccine or not be respectful of others’ decisions and remain distanced. The vaccine isn’t a guaranteed solution. 

Who will be receiving the vaccine?

It has become increasingly evident that healthcare workers aren’t always the top priority, even when receiving the vaccine. It has been shown that the nation’s top politicians, the majority of those who spent months violating and dismissing covid policies are the ones receiving the vaccine over the healthcare workers who have been in a constant battle with the virus for almost a year. 

Yes, many healthcare workers are receiving the vaccine as well, but it is devastating to watch politicians who argued against science and facts receive the vaccine first. While politicians have the opportunity to set a strong example in receiving the vaccine, they are potentially taking away from the healthcare workers who need to be vaccinated. 

Many healthcare and critical workers such as nursing home workers, dentists, and med students aren’t being prioritized the same way although they fall under essential workers who are regularly exposed to Covid. Many feel forgotten or unimportant even though they are also the ones who are considered to be in a high-risk category. 

We must prioritize our healthcare workers before anyone else, they have been working day and night to research, help, and treat people for the past 10 months, the least anyone can do is prioritize their health.

The different strands of Covid

Currently circulating the internet there are many myths that there are more serious/deadly versions of Covid that citizens could get. From TikTok to unreliable news sources, there are so many people claiming to know what they are talking about, but instead are just spreading misinformation. 

This propaganda can be extremely harmful to others who aren’t taking advice from experts and are instead relying on social media to inform them. These creators most of the time don’t have the proper credentials and don’t use the correct sources.

It is best to get your news from a reliable unbiased source, whether it’s a doctor, health official, or news source. The spread of fiction, wild conspiracies, and misinformation need to stop. 

Working while asymptomatic  

Young people are now the driving factor of case spikes and spreading of the virus. Thankfully, most students are at home, taking part in virtual learning until it is safe to go back. 

However, the Board of Frederick County Public Schools has decided to reopen its doors during some of the darkest days of the pandemic.  As of January 12 students and teachers are to go back to a hybrid model starting February 16. This decision has led most teachers and parents to wonder what the Board’s mindset was when determining the hybrid model and students’ health. 

“Even though Frederick County continues to push back its starting date, it is still dangerous to go back to hybrid. There is an option to stay home rather than going hybrid which I prefer. You never know who could be attending school while asymptomatic and putting others at risk,” said junior Georgia Enos. 

Parents continue to argue with the board and push for kids to be back in school in Frederick County. But these parents are quite literally arguing with a deadly global pandemic that is stubborn and not looking for others’ opinions. 

While the topic of opening schools remains a touchy and opinionated subject for many, the facts from experts like Dr. Lawler don’t lie. Young people remain to be the leading cause in the increase in cases and opening schools too early will just increase the ongoing problem. This decision to go back to school while still in the pandemic can lead to students attending school while asymptomatic. This then creates a classroom environment where healthy students can be exposed for up to 2 hours to their asymptomatic classmates. These classmates then bring covid home to their families, friends, and grandparents, and a spike occurs. 

“With proper safety precautions {masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer} a hybrid model can be safe, however not yet. With the number of cases nationally and locally rising to record numbers, it is unsafe for both teachers and students to be in the building for a long period of time,” said junior Daniela Gerardi. 

With most students at home currently, teens are less likely to be in large gatherings for prolonged periods of time, thus helping to slow the spread. It’s too early to go back to school with so many health factors on the line. The sooner we can get both our local and national case numbers under control the sooner we can return to unmasked normal school life.  

Wearing masks during high cardio exercise  

Frederick County Public Schools had also approved return to play and conditioning programs throughout the months of November and December. These programs were designed so athletes could condition for their chosen sport in a mask, with increased sanitary conditions, and as much social distancing as possible. 

The sports in play only met about three times a week and have been extremely successful when cases were declining. 

The Board approved all winter sports to return in mid-December; however, it was quickly shut down due to the surge in cases and worsening health metrics in the county. Masks can prevent the spread only so much, but when you take them down, wear them improperly, or fail to wear one at all during sports, it makes transmission much more likely. 

With the new surge in cases, winter sports could have caused more damage. 

“Although it is upsetting that they canceled all winter sports I understand completely why they did it. It is difficult to be around that many people safely to exercise. Even if everyone had on their masks and was socially distant it’s still hard to keep things clean and safe,” said junior Olivia Fullarton, a member of the LHS Swimming and Diving team. 

Some students believe that it is dangerous to wear a mask while exercising due to the lack of oxygen circulation into the body. However this is not the case, experts explain that the masks will only help slow/prevent the spread of Covid.

If most professional athletes can wear face coverings during practice, high school athletes can do the same and practice the same health measures as the big league athletes and coaches. Wearing a mask continuously will “train” your body to become less uncomfortable when the mask.

From the wise words of the New Jersey Governor, “ You know what’s uncomfortable? When you die.” 

My Covid Risk App

Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health Emergency Physicians and Researchers, Dr. Megan Ranney and Dr. Elizabeth Goldberg collaborated with Xionix Interactive Development, Inc. to create an app called My COVID Risk that can help users make informed decisions on what activities carry the most risk.

This app gathers very little information to help determine risks. Some include age and location to determine if you are in a high-risk environment or not. Rachel McCoy, a high school senior has tested out and even wrote an article about the My COVID Risk app and how useful it is for students. 

“I think that the app was able to prevent the spread because it really makes you think about how much of a risk it is to go to a certain place and if it is worth it or not,” said McCoy.

While this app seems to be unable to take off nationwide, many students report having success with testing it out. 

While this My COVID Risk app is one of several on the app store, it is a trusted source that was created only to know your risk in an environment. 

The different types of tests

The most common form of testing many people see in Frederick County is the deep brain biopsy. There are testing sites set up for people to just drive up, fill out their information, and receive a test. The results typically come back 3-5 days after the initial swab test.

It is also pretty common for people to go and get a Covid Antibodies test. For this test, participants give blood in the form of a finger prick (most common) and it checks to see if you have the Covid antibodies in your blood.

Locally there are more than 220 testing sites available for people. This includes drive-up testing, antibody testing, and testing in healthcare facilities and most drugstores such as CVS. This increase in testing sites helps people stay informed and provides services to everyone, regardless of if you have symptoms or not. 

“I am glad that people can go get tested, and that the tests are being administered to as many people as possible. However, we have to remember that there is the possibility of false positives/negatives, and contracting covid at different places. There is no immediate way to know if you have Covid, and I think it’s best just to quarantine yourself if you have been exposed, or feel that you have it,” said Gerardi. 

It really doesn’t matter which type of test you get, students and responsible teens alike agree that it is important to take responsibility, it’s really that simple. 

The sooner you know if you are Covid positive, the sooner you can stay home and slow the spread, this is why it is critical to go get tested and know your results to take the safety precautions necessary. 

Surfaces

Most students can agree that precautions should be taken not only to slow the spread but to prevent getting sick in general. Hand sanitizing, wiping down surfaces, and minimizing touch in a high touch area are all ways that can help prevent a Covid spread. 

“I avoid direct contact by using my elbows to push buttons or using my sleeve to open doors. I don’t know if this is the safest thing to do since washing clothes isn’t the same as disinfecting, but if I don’t have gloves on me, it’s my best option. I just try my best to use anything but my hands to touch or move things.  because I’m rather forgetful and don’t want to rub my eyes or do anything that could cause germs to get into my body,” said Junior Daniela Gerardi. 

These precautions make most people feel like they are protecting themselves and others around them. It was recommended that you wash your hands often and try not to touch your face to prevent things like the common cold, or the flu, however now more than ever it is crucial that we take precautions such as hand washing for personal safety and health.

If you feel you’ve been exposed or show symptoms of Covid-19, get tested immediately, stay out of contact with others, and quarantine for at least 14 days.

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