Before COVID-19 was even detected in the United States, Dan Erickson, a former emergency room physician who now co-owns Accelerated Urgent Care in Bakersfield, bought as many tests for the virus as he could. He knew it would be here eventually and wanted to be ready to test those who needed and wanted it.
Now, after testing thousands of people, he and his business partner, physician Artin Massihi, say they have enough data to draw some conclusions about COVID-19.
Their message: COVID-19 is more ubiquitous and less deadly than we think. It’s similar to influenza and we should therefore reopen society and stop treating the situation like the lethal menace it was initially thought to be.
“Two months ago we didn’t know this so I’m bringing it to light now,” Erickson said Wednesday at a news conference held at his Coffee Road urgent care.
Kern County Public Health Services Spokeswoman Michelle Corson and an epidemiologist contacted by The Californian said they didn’t agree with the doctors’ recommendation to end social distancing and immediately start reopening society.
“This is a many-headed hydra. It’s really unfortunate to boil this all down to it’s just flu,” said Andrew Noymer, associate professor of public health at UC Irvine. “There’s no flu season that looks anything like New York does right now.”
‘Similar to flu’
Accelerated urgent care has done 5,213 COVID-19 tests at its five Bakersfield locations, Erickson said — which is more than half the 9,197 tests done so far in Kern County. Of those, 340 were positive, according to Erickson.
If that percentage of positive cases were assumed to represent the entire population of Kern County, which is roughly 900,000, it would mean about 58,000 people in Kern have had the virus, far more than the nearly 700 official confirmed, Erickson said.
That many cases would “indicate there is a widespread (COVID-19) infection, similar to flu,” Erickson said.
And if we don’t shutdown the country for flu, should we keep doing it for coronavirus?
“It’s about looking at trends and saying we’re not seeing what they’ve been talking about for the past six to eight weeks,” said Massihi, referring to predictions that up to 100,000 Americans could die of the virus and hospitals would become swamped with patients. “We’ve crippled the economy. There’s a lot of domestic issues going on. Is social isolation warranted for the healthy?”
Using the same calculation, Erickson estimates 12 percent of the population statewide, or some 4.7 million Californians, have already had COVID-19. With about 1,400 deaths so far in California, that puts the statewide death rate at about .03 percent, he said.
“Does that (low death rate) necessitate sheltering in place? Does that necessitate shutting down medical systems? Does that necessitate being out of work?” Erickson asked.
Nationwide, about 42,000 people have died of coronavirus as of Wednesday. Between 30,000 and 60,000 die of flu annually, Erickson said, citing CDC data.
The secondary effects of the shutdown are considerable, too, he said. They include a dramatic decrease in volumes at hospitals and even Erickson’s urgent care practice, where staff are mostly testing patients for COVID-19 these days.