Health on the Frontlines: Brighter Days Ahead Amid COVID-19

A medical worker displaying a COVID-19 vaccine on January 4, 2021.
A medical worker displaying a COVID-19 vaccine on January 4, 2021.
Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Pool

Some of you may ask why an ophthalmologist is talking about infectious diseases. Guess which diagnoses and treats more infectious diseases by volume than any other specialty! You guessed right if you said ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists treat bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic eye infections. Gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, pseudomonas, strep, staph, HIV, shingles, worms and, yes, even COVID-19, can enter through our eyes. 

The virus has mutated to a more rapid spreading but slightly less lethal version, according to scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Viruses mutate often to less deadly forms after 18 months because if they kill their human host “hotel” they don’t survive either. Based on when this virus arrived on our shores and the history of pandemics, things should start to get better by June 2021. 

When 70% of the population is immune from getting COVID-19 or have vaccine immunity, this nightmare should subside. We will see how long antibodies last and if this will become an annual vaccine. We have also learned from the Kobe University studies that at 30% humidity in the air, viral load is doubled and at 60% humidity it’s half. Indoor dry heat and air conditioning in close spaces increase transmission. 

If schools, restaurants, stores and businesses added UVC air sanitizers in the air handlers and kept humidity at 50% this would reduce spread, based on scientific studies. Outdoor restaurants can use heated electric rubber door mats that could be placed underneath tablecloths to keep food, hands and feet warm while dining. 

Meanwhile, people should continue to wear masks when in public and shopping. Avoid masks with one-way exhalation valves because every time you breathe out you are spreading germs. Wash hands often, take your shoes off when you are at home. 

Avoid touching gas pumps, door handles and sink handles as much as possible with your bare hands. If you have a fever, loss of smell and taste, headache, muscle aches or shortness of breath, call your doctor. In my opinion, even if you are vaccinated you should wear a mask until the pandemic is over because you can still be a silent spreader while the vaccine generated antibodies are fighting off the infection. 

Stay strong. This too shall pass, if we follow the science. Lockdowns are just exposing our healthcare system weaknesses and lack of ICU beds. 

Our politicians must realize that healthcare is national security. Government and private philanthropy must support our hospitals, medical and nursing schools more than ever. How a society treats its weakest, disabled and most vulnerable is a reflection of its strength and unity of purpose.

Peter Michalos, MD is Associate Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; Past President of Medical Staff and Past Chief of Surgery Southampton Hospital; Chairman Hamptons Health Society. He has been a resident of Southampton for three decades.

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