At a recent campaign rally, President Donald Trump stated that COVID-19 only affected “elderly people with heart problems” and otherwise affected “virtually nobody.” He used these words to downplay the devastation of this pandemic.
I hope that no one took those words to heart but instead recognized it as campaign rhetoric with no connection to reality. We have surpassed 200,000 deaths in the United States from this virus. Now is not the time to scale back our efforts on masks and social distancing. People are still dying. And what people may not realize is that many who have recovered from COVID-19, young and old, are left with long-term, debilitating complications afterward.
The president used those unempathetic words to reinforce the message that young people do not need to worry about the virus. Tell that to the 30-year-olds we have had to intubate and place on ventilators in my hospital. Tell that to the young professional that, even after his ordeal, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after spending one month in a medically induced coma and whose muscles wasted away to the point he still needs physical therapy to learn to walk normally. Tell that to my pulmonologist colleague who is seeing several young people who, though they recovered from the coronavirus, are finding that they newly suffer from an asthma-like illness.
Unfortunately, these are not uncommon stories. They are happening again and again around the country. We are still discovering complications caused by the after effects of the virus. And, despite the commonly held belief, children can still become infected with COVID-19 and need hospitalization. It is much rarer when compared with adults, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledge that several hundred children infected with the virus have required hospitalization since March.
Even if the president were right that only the elderly with preexisting conditions are affected, isn’t that still awful? My heart still breaks when I call family members to tell them their loved one will not recover but will die from COVID-19. Although elderly and already ill, they are still someone’s grandfather, grandmother, father, mother or friend.
Many people want to believe the messaging that the virus’ seriousness is overblown, and that the country should return to normal operations. I get it. Staying 6 feet apart under a mask does not feel natural. We all miss being able to gather at restaurants and bars or going to see sporting events in person. This has been difficult for everyone.
But it would much harder if you or a loved one became very sick from COVID-19, or had persistent debilitating complications after recovery. If we value life and health, we need to continue these precautions until we are confident that we are all immune from further infection, possibly with a reliable vaccine.
This might not be for several more months, however. Until then, these safety measures will be our best defense to keep virtually everybody safe.
Dr. Thomas Ken Lew is an assistant clinical professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an attending physician of Hospital Medicine at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasLewMD
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's claim that virtually nobody is hurt by COVID-19 is false