I have been a medical doctor nearly my entire adult life. It is not an exaggeration to say that my life’s work has been in the emergency room trying to save people’s lives.
It’s in that light, and with that experience in mind, that I write to share my concerns about Governor Tony Evers’ response to COVID 19.
As background, Coronavirus is not new. There are many strains, and some have been around for a very long time. Coronavirus was first isolated in humans in the 1960s.
Coronavirus is easily transmissible, hence the saying, “catchy as a common cold.” All coronaviruses can be deadly with some being more deadly than others. Coronavirus is typically an upper respiratory tract infection that kills people by causing a lower respiratory tract infection (pneumonia).
COVID 19 is a new (novel) strain of Coronavirus. That necessarily means we are all learning about it and developing data as we go. However, in the absence of significant data, the medical community and public health experts must use limited data to develop models.
As in everything, early models, with limited data, often turn out to be somewhat inaccurate. As we gain more data, the models become more accurate.
Interestingly, this is also often the case with a doctor’s diagnosis of a patient. Often patients will come to the rural emergency room where I work presenting a set of symptoms that appear to be one thing at first. But as I ask more questions and conduct more tests, it turns out to be something different. It would be absurd to treat a patient for the initial diagnosis after we find out, based on more information and studies, that the initial diagnosis was incorrect.
The same is true with COVID 19. When public health experts and policy makers first began to discuss a policy response to COVID 19, they were relying on models formed with somewhat limited data. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Evers and others with respect to their initial response. Even though I didn’t particularly like the initial response because of its obvious impact on the economy and civil liberties, I can at least understand their thinking at that time.
However, now that we have more actual data, and now that we understand how COVID 19 is developing in Wisconsin, I can no longer give Evers the benefit of the doubt. In the face of overwhelming data showing that the initial terrifying models were incorrect (thankfully), Evers’ response has been to double down.
We know today that COVID 19 is a deadly disease for people with underlying health conditions and people over 70. It is extremely deadly in people over 80 and almost always fatal in people over 90.
For healthy individuals under the age of 70, it is more likely to cause fairly mild symptoms. The younger the patient, the milder the symptoms are likely to be; with the vast majority being asymptomatic. There will be younger people who die of COVID 19, but they will be the exception.
A more precise plan is needed to protect those at risk while protecting the freedom, livelihoods and businesses of those who are not at risk.
Here is a rough analogy of what we are doing: When Osama bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad, the United States could have killed him by dropping a nuclear bomb on his compound. It would have been effective in eliminating him, but the harm to the rest of society would have been completely unacceptable.
A more precise plan of action was used instead – the Navy Seals were sent in. They were able to eliminate the threat posed by bin Laden without the collateral damage of a nuclear weapon.
We can do the same with COVID 19. Instead, to date, Wisconsin has effectively deployed the proverbial nuclear bomb. The collateral damage is massive – 400,000 people have lost their jobs in Wisconsin alone.
Ironically, hospitals and our health system may suffer the worst of the collateral damage. The dramatic drop in revenue being seen at many hospitals threatens their very existence. To put in place a policy that indiscriminately affects all of society, without acknowledging that this COVID 19 discriminates against a certain set of the population, is to cause more harm to society than help to those who need the help.
When I became a doctor I took an oath to do no harm. If I see patients and recommend unnecessary testing or treatment, I am doing the patient financial harm. It is best to give a patient the information, the pros and cons of tests and treatments, and let them decide what path they want to take. This allows them to take into account the cost of care; financially, physically and emotionally. The patient is then given control over what is best for her. For a physician to make this decision, without the input of the patient, is the height of arrogance and folly.
We are in the same position with COVID 19. Evers is making decisions without the input of the people. As data continue to show that COVID 19 will not affect the majority of society, continuation of the draconian policies of Evers are the height of arrogance and folly. Without input from the people, he is causing the entire state of Wisconsin harm.
Like dropping a nuclear bomb on Abbottabad, the harm done to the rest of society is completely unacceptable. Unacceptable financially, physically and emotionally.
As the elected representatives of the people of Wisconsin, I encourage the state Legislature to stop the governor from causing more harm to the state of Wisconsin. Develop a plan to protect the most vulnerable and put Wisconsin back on track to be healthy, not just physically, but also emotionally and financially.
Dr. Erik Severson is the Emergency Room Director at the Osceola Medical Center in Polk County, Wisconsin. Severson graduated from the Mayo Medical School and served two terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly (2011-2015). This op-ed is not intended to represent the views of Severson’s employer.