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Carroll County Times Opinion

Community Voices (Pyatt): Testing remains our best defense with vaccine still a long way off

At the present time, only one in one hundred Americans has been tested in any capacity for COVID-19, according to a recent article in the Washington Post. Some experts have collectively opined that the true number of people who would be considered “positive” is at least 10 times higher than the official numbers. I give Maryland a D+ and almost all states an F for meeting the testing criteria to even begin opening up.

The pharmaceutical review process performed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a proven and scientific approach based on a sequential set of increasingly rigorous tests and reviews before the drug can be marketed. It is the gold standard. Unfortunately it typically takes 10 to 15 years to get the drugs from concept to market. Many drugs are approved because of the staying power of the pharmaceutical companies as opposed to the actual health to harm ratio.

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Pharmaceuticals are being asked to do the impossible — develop and test and produce in bulk a “vaccine” in one year, instead of the 10 to 15 years it would normally take. But this is the only defense that would allow us to truly open up our economy.

In the meantime, the only defense mechanism we have is “social distancing,” masks, and staying and working at home. Efforts to develop mass antigen tests and test kits for determining whether a person has COVID-19 are having setbacks, according to a CNN article of April 15. One of the concerns for an antigen test device is that the FDA has relaxed their requirements in some Asian markets for testing of these devices, and we may be flooded with devices that are unreliable. The concern is that people may use one of these tests — which have a characteristic of sometimes mixing common cold coronaviruses with COVID-19, as one example — and believe they’re immune when they are not.

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The Pleasant View Nursing Home near Mount Airy is about a half mile from the town boundary, and it has contributed about 30 deaths. We know the COVID-19 virus is around us. But it hasn’t appeared to make a presence in the town’s residential areas.

We know a fair amount, and yet we know almost nothing. The state has grouped cases by ZIP codes. Because of Pleasant View, Mount Airy has the second-highest number of coronavirus deaths in Maryland by ZIP code (21771). Frederick County has shot up in the number of cases, and it’s difficult to know how many cases come from which county.

The survival rate from COVID-19 is generally pretty good, but it’s like a rattlesnake — it can strike without warning. The survival rate for Pleasant View residents was about 70%. Until we get a grip on testing — and Maryland is better than most states at 8% of its population being tested at least once — the community at large has no defense. A serum or vaccine is a year to a year and a half away at best.

It’s not like smoking — where even though you know there’s a very high risk of lung cancer and heart disease and are willing to assume that risk — you continue to smoke. Social distancing requires everybody’s buy in. Weak links affect the herd.

There also a is lot of new criticisms—not of the modelers per se-- but in the blind application of these complex prediction methods by the White House to make state by state predictions. Models are generally pretty inaccurate when you look at the big picture. One nursing home here or there can make a profound difference.

Just like the European and American computer weather predictions, neither one is usually correct, but it points out a range of outcomes. And most experts agree that all models are grossly under-predicting the number of infected population and likely under-predicting fatalities, although not as much as the number of case estimates. And we don’t really appreciate the extent of asymptomatic infections, which could be larger than those with symptoms but can infect others just as easily.

Science and data don’t arrive already gift wrapped. It is the result of years of careful research and considerable internal debate among other scientists. We hope unknowns focus on saving lives. Yet this science has worked quite well to flatten the curve.

I can’t understand why some state governors don’t take a firmer stand. Gov. Hogan has done his all for Maryland. We cannot lose our only defense until we get a better one.

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Unfortunately, our national leadership has been a disaster in mentoring the development of testing.

Dave Pyatt writes from Mount Airy. Reach him at DPyatt2@verizon.net.


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