NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – “It’s been hard because we’ve been doing this for four months, this has been a journey for sure and people are ready for it to be over and they want it to be over. And unfortunately wishing it was over is not going to make it go away.”

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Dr. Todd Rice wants you to know he understands the frustrations that have come along with COVID-19 but we’re still in a pandemic.

“We’re still seeing critically ill patients; there are patients who come in almost on a daily basis to us at the hospital in the ICU, that are having enough problems breathing that we have to put them on a ventilator and support their breathing,” says Dr. Rice.

He continues, “people that go on the ventilator for this virus, for this disease are on the ventilator for 2, 3, sometimes 4 weeks before they get better. And obviously not everybody is getting that sick but it’s a large enough percentage of the population that we have our own ICU set up to take care of these patients, and it’s full, and we have a significant number of them. The number really hasn’t gone down in the last 8 to 10 weeks.”

Dr. Rice says they’re starting to see a bit of an increase in numbers, and not just older people with other medical conditions.

“We’ve had young patients that haven’t had any other medical problems, that have actually come to us, gotten really sick and not survived. So it’s definitely serious.”

It also appears to be the demographic with the rising cases. Nashville plans to head back to Phase 2 tomorrow because of the 608 new cases reported on Thursday.

“I think lots of younger adults may know somebody that they got it, they got sick, but they weren’t really sick for very long or they had cough and a fever for a few days and then it was over, and while we know that the younger population is likely to have less severe symptoms, it’s not a guarantee.”

The one glimmer of hope is “the positive cases have gone up six fold or so and we haven’t had six times as many people in the hospital so that’s been fortunate. There’s still worry though that as this spreads that it will spread to populations that are more prone to get sick and more prone to need the hospital and our cases will rise.”

But Dr. Rice says there’s a delay in when people test positive and when they may need the hospital.

“So you start to get a little symptoms and you get tested, and you get positive, and you turn up in a positive case for the day in the numbers. Then usually people who need the hospital will progress over the next three to five days so we often see a lag in admissions to the hospital and even a bigger lag or longer lag to admissions to the ICU from those positive cases. Because people are going to get tested as soon as they have symptoms, and as soon as they have symptoms, they often aren’t severe enough that they have to be admitted to the hospital but over the next few days, they may progress and get worse and then need admission to the hospital and that’s when we start to see a rise in our numbers.

"The hospital numbers, I think, will be delayed for a week or so and we may see some uptick in a week or so from the numbers we’re seeing now but additionally the spread of the reduction of the spread is also delayed. So what we do now, we’re not going to see in numbers tomorrow. We’ll see those in numbers 3, 5, 7 days down the road because that will affect when people get symptoms from a virus they would have caught today.”

Vanderbilt University’s Professor of Medical and Linguistic Anthropology T.S. Harvey is the lead researcher on an app that is a virtual self-screening tool for people knowing their risk to COVID-19.

It was created before testing was widely available but says it’s still a good tool to learn your risk score and get directed to the resources needed to address that risk.

Harvey says, “What we don’t want is the hospital system inundated so what we hope to do is to use this tool to distribute this way.”

He also says of the virus, “A lot of people focused on the notion of a curve and I think that was a good metaphor but unfortunately what that did was that made us think that this was an event, a single curve that needed to be flattened. But pandemics are processes, they’re not events, they unfold across time, so we need to move our mind off that metaphor of a single curve and understand this as distributed possibly in waves and understand that each of us have the ability to change to course of the direction of this illness. It’s actually something within our reach.”

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