AMU Diseases Health & Fitness Infectious Diseases Podcast Protect & Secure

COVID-19 and Flu Infections Down, but Threat Remains

Podcast featuring Glynn CoskerManaging Editor, Edge and
Dr. Chris ReynoldsDean, Vice President of Academic Outreach and Program Development, American Military University

While the U.S. is reporting far fewer COVID-19 infection rates than a year ago, the virus is by no means gone. In this episode, Glynn Cosker talks to AMU’s Dr. Christopher Reynolds about the current state of the U.S., the increase in variants and virus mutations, and the success of mitigation efforts like mask wearing and vaccination campaigns. Learn what emergency managers have learned during the response to COVID-19 and how it’s contributed to crisis planning and preparation.

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Glynn Cosker: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I’m Glynn Cosker, your host, and joining me today is Dr. Christopher Reynolds, American Military University’s Dean and Vice President of Academic Outreach and Program Development.

Chris is a certified emergency manager through IAEM, and his career in emergency and disaster management spans more than three decades and includes on the ground responses to the Oklahoma City bombing, various major hurricanes over the years, including Andrew and Katrina. And various earthquake response and recovery operations, including the Haitian earthquake in 2010. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of Dr. Reynolds’ career. How are you today, Dr. Reynolds?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Hey, Glynn. I’m doing very well. How are you today?

Glynn Cosker: I’m living the dream. So Chris, let’s jump into our discussion, on COVID-19, something that we had never heard of, obviously, until March of last year, or actually, I should say January of last year. But I’m going to ask you a few questions to talk to about what’s happening in the US.

There were huge surges in the winter months and a lowering in the spring and the summer. But, in your opinion, could there be another spike coming up in the coming months leading up to the winter or do you think that we’re in a better place than we were a year ago?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Well, Glynn, that’s a great question. First of all, I think that in terms of are we better off than we were a year ago? Absolutely. There’s no question we’re better off. We’ve seen the spikes and we’ve seen the lulls in the virus spread rate, but what we have the benefit of now that we didn’t have a year ago are the number of folks that have been vaccinated, that have the vaccine, which, of course, is critical to that whole herd immunity proposition to prevent from getting COVID.

Going forward I think, honestly, that it’s like any of the flu variants that are out there that you’re going to see ebbs and flows, you’re going to see spikes and you’re going to see valleys. It’s difficult to predict whether we’re going to see a large increase in COVID infections. It just depends.

I mean, scientists are still trying to determine what are the conditions that make it most susceptible. I mean, folks are wearing, of course, face masks now and they’re more cognizant of washing their hands, so the personal hygiene more importance now to keep the disease from spreading.

So, I think we’re on the good side of this, quite honestly. I think that we’re going to continue to see people get vaccinated. I think you’re going to see whatever mutations of COVID-19 that spin off, you’ll see our Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] and their ability to detect and develop vaccinations for whatever those variants may be.

Unfortunately, I think that COVID-19 is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. But I think that in terms of preparedness for the country and vaccinations, I think that we’re in a far better leg of dealing with it than we were a year ago.

Glynn Cosker: I 100% agree, especially about the vaccinations. You mentioned some of the other precautionary tactics, the masks and, obviously, hand sanitizer. But the point is, all of those things have always helped. Masks have always helped and hand sanitizer has always helped, and that’s why the flu season this year, this past winter, there really wasn’t a flu season because of all those precautionary tactics.

40,000 people a year, or a season, a winter season, usually die from the flu in the US alone. 40,000 is a big number. And there was a very, very small percentage of people that died with the flu this past winter. So, social distancing works, masks work. Do you think those elements in some communities are here to stay, the social distancing and the mask wearing in certain crowded conditions?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: I do. I’ve had the benefit of traveling a lot internationally and spent quite a bit of time in Southeast Asia as well as in Europe and I can tell you that years ago in Southeast Asia you would see people in areas where there were large populations congregating, a lot of people wearing masks. And this was well before COVID-19.

I think the mask wearing, I don’t want to say it’s a cultural thing as much as it is just a personal awareness of not wanting to get sick thing. And I think that a lot of people were not supportive of face masks early, there was a lot of conflicting information coming out from the government in terms of should we wear masks, should we not wear masks? Do we have to wear three masks, two masks, one mask?

I think that there was a lot of miscommunication out for that. But when it comes down to the individual citizen or the individual mother or father or with their children, they’re going to turn to what’s best. And I think that you’re going to continue to see people wear masks. If they think that it provides them a modicum of safety they’re going to wear them.

In things like washing hands, and we talked about a minute ago, the fact the flu season wasn’t as bad. The reason the flu season wasn’t as bad is because the vectors necessary to pass on the flu are very similar to what COVID is. Face mask, washing of hands, staying away from dirty surfaces or washing your hands after you touch a dirty surface. I mean, prevention is almost the same, so that’s why you saw a drop in the flu community.

I think that to a certain degree, yeah, it’s here to stay. I still think that you’ll see places where people will go back not wearing mask. And when there’s a spike, a virus spike or there’s a variant that comes out and a lot of people get ill again, you may see masks coming back more in vogue. What really disturbs me is the politicalization of the mask wearing, because it shouldn’t be anything about politics, it should be about public health, period.

Glynn Cosker: I agree. It should be. And masks, in my opinion, work. Now, whether or not they worked for COVID-19 we need some more statistics, but we definitely know that they worked for the flu, because we’ve just had the least-fatal flu season on record. So, something that we were doing made that happen. And I think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you sneeze and cough and splutter and speak and sing when you’re wearing a mask, it doesn’t land on someone else.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Exactly.

Glynn Cosker: It just stays right there on the mask.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: It stays where it should stay.

Glynn Cosker: Eighth grade science, fifth grade science, I don’t know, but that’s just my personal opinion. Same with the social distancing. I’ve been social distancing for my entire adult life. I hate getting up close with people in the store. Why would I want to do that?

So, yeah, I’ve been staying six feet away, and I’m very conscious of it, but whether or not it goes mainstream, I think COVID-19 has opened a lot of eyes and said, “Okay, well, it wasn’t that hard to be six feet apart, it wasn’t that hard to wear this mask, it wasn’t that hard to take these precautions, buy some extra hand sanitizer.” And if people would proactively do those things going forward, because like you said, COVID-19 is not going anywhere, there will be variants. But if people proactively take those precautions, in my mind, it’s a no-brainer.

And the vaccinations, of course, another controversial subject. I’ve had mine. I’ve had both of mine. I had my Moderna shot back on April 24th, I believe, and then four weeks later I got the second shot. I had some mild symptoms, just like a percentage of people. Some people don’t have any symptoms.

The point is, I’m fully vaccinated now, and I’m still here. There isn’t anything nefarious about it, in my opinion. There has been some crazy stories in the media about the vaccinations and why people shouldn’t get them, but the science is there, and people should be getting them.

The process for getting it is very much streamlined, and it is a compliment, I guess is the word. Once you get a plan of action in place, like they did here and said, “This is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to do it, this is who gets it.” That plan was a good plan, and there should be some applause for that plan. Would you agree?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Yeah. I think that we need to look at to how quickly the whole vaccine process was essentially sped up. What’s it take, seven to 10 years before a vaccine can even go through all the testings and all the various levels of evaluations they have to go through before they even come in the mainstream and made available. They greatly reduced that amount of time necessary to test the vaccines. And unfortunately, like anything in a bell curve, you’ve got the outliers, and those outliers can be good or bad.

And there have been a lot of cases where folks have had adverse reactions to their vaccine, have succumbed because of the vaccine, or have caught COVID-19, so they say, because of the vaccine. And so the vaccinations are as much an individual choice as really anything in our country.

Family preparedness assures that your children and that your spouse and that your family members are vaccinated. It’s not unlike when a child is born they are vaccinated shortly after, not they’re born, but shortly after their first year they start receiving the vaccinations necessary.

The science says the vaccines are safe, I think that people have to make that individual choice of themselves whether they want to get the vaccine or not. Getting the vaccine makes you safer. It makes you less likely to be a vector to carry the disease. It makes you less likely to contract the disease.

There are places around the world, not necessarily in the United States, you have to hope it doesn’t come to this, but there are places in the world where proof of vaccination is what’s going to get you your ability to travel, and it’s been suggested that that occur in this country. I don’t want to see that happen here, but it’s just better to be vaccinated and be prepared.

Glynn Cosker: I agree. I don’t want to see that happen here either. It is a personal choice. I should have made that clear. It’s definitely a personal choice.

One looks at the life expectancy of a man in 1900, it was 46, if my memory serves that the statistics I looked at. But that was before mass vaccinations or, like you said, newborns being vaccinated, and, of course, it was before penicillin was discovered as well. But the point is, medicine saves lives. Life expectancy now, of course, because of science and medicine, it’s much higher, it’s closer to 80. So to me it’s always been prevention is the best medicine.

Absolutely. Well, this has been an interesting discussion. I’m Glynn Cosker, my guest today is Dr. Christopher Reynolds, and we’ll be right back.

You mentioned Asia earlier and how people were wearing the masks even before COVID. That sort of thing is an interesting thing to me, because I do remember looking at the stats from April of last year, and those South Asian countries were wearing the masks before COVID. And I got to tell you, the rate of infection was much lower, and the number of deaths per capita was much lower.

But, of course, we’re talking about different cultures. And like you said earlier, it’s a cultural thing, and that is something that is never going to happen in the United States. It’s going to be a voluntary thing. I don’t see a day in our future where everybody is told to wear a mask regardless of what’s happening with COVID-19.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: True. I agree with that, but anyone who flies today, get ready. The minute you cross the threshold in the airport your mask is on and it doesn’t come off until you’ve landed to your wherever receiving airport is and you’re off the airport property. So, at least in terms of travel, folks are required to keep the mask on. And, again, that comes back to a common sense thing.

Anyone who’s ever flown, and most listeners have certainly flown pre-COVID-19, like you said, coughing, sneezing, anything, I mean, those are all droplet forms that can easily be transmitted to people. So at least the mask prevents that from being as severe without a mask.

Glynn Cosker: Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m from the UK so I’ve gone back and forth across the Atlantic dozens of times. But I’ll tell you something, whenever I do the sickest I’ve ever been in my life has immediately followed that plane ride. And so that to me is another indication that if you are going to wear a mask, then the best place to wear it is on an airplane because it’s a concealed space. And like you say, those droplets when people are sneezing and coughing and yelling and all the rest of it, so yeah.

But it’s interesting, as you know, Chris, I’m a huge hockey fan, and I was watching the Bruins game the other night, because I live in the Boston area now so it’s almost mandatory viewing. And the entire arena was full of people, and I didn’t see too many masks. And we’re talking about Boston, Massachusetts. And then I’m watching the Montreal game, which is on after that, Montreal playing Winnipeg, and this arena was empty. There might have been maybe 1,000 people in there.

So different strokes for different folks, I guess, but seeing that arena in Boston full of people was eye opening. I don’t know if it’s the right time yet, I might be being slightly controversial here with those statements, but I don’t think you can go from an empty stadium to a full one in just a week, because that’s what happened.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Your point is well taken. I agree with you on much of that. Tampa Bay, of course, I live in Tampa, so go figure, the Tampa Bay Lightnings are my team, and I have three grandsons who all play hockey, and they play youth hockey. My daughter’s a hockey mom, and they were at the arena last night at a watch party watching the Lightning, of course, win, which they always win, but watching that. And a lot of people at the arena were in masks, some weren’t, but many were.

You talk about Boston and a packed arena, people without mask, I mean, here again you run the risk of virus spike because, quite honestly, there are a number of people that likely have not been vaccinated, so you just run a higher risk.

You talk about the Winnipeg game, Canada, although I don’t know this offhand right away, but I think that much of the Canadian government still mandates mask or public assemblies can’t be greater than X number of people, which, of course, an arena is going to have an exceeding number of people where they can’t go to.

In Florida, my own state, our governor, DeSantis, has lifted all the mask rules in state of Florida, so individual businesses and school districts, for example, they can say, no, we still want you wearing a mask, but the mandatory wearing a mask are gone here. But you still see people, and I’m one of them, that still wears a mask when I’m out in the public, just to be safe.

Glynn Cosker: I’m one of those people as well. I just go by the science. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a no brainer. The stuff that you cough and sneeze stays right with you, with a mask on. See, that was what was running through my mind when I watched the NHL game the other night, was how many of those people are vaccinated?

Now, there’s this thing now where, okay, so if I’m vaccinated then I can go into anywhere where it allows me, without wearing a mask because I know that I’m vaccinated. But there might be somebody in that restaurant or store who is, for whatever reason, not eligible for the vaccination or has a medical condition which means they can’t get the vaccination. And that person is looking at me without my mask saying, “Well, is he vaccinated?” How would I be able to tell the person who’s thinking that I might have COVID?

And that’s why it gets a little bit of a gray area and my state of New Hampshire they’ve lifted all of the mask regulations as well. So we went from having to wear them even walking down the street, to not even wearing them at the Home Depot or wherever we go. And I think a lot of it has to do with the warmer months. Like I said earlier, that curve dips after the winter, it goes spring, summer.

Regardless of the vaccinations the mask wearing, the social distancing, any virus in the Northern Hemisphere or the Western Hemisphere, obviously, there’s very few summer colds, summer flu, and so the science is there to say that the summer months it goes down anyway, the number of infections that is.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there is going to be a spike. I think there’s going to be a spike, and I think that spike will come when the summer ends, and that spike might be as a result of loosening all of the regulations.

People might agree with me, they might not agree with me, but I’m predicting a spike. And I guess we’ll see in a few months time if I’m right or wrong. Hopefully, I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong. But in my personal opinion I think that going from mandatory masks to “meh” overnight is, it’s just an interesting concept.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: You’re not going to get an argument out of me on that Glynn, at all. And I agree. I think that one of the flu season hits next year we’re going to see a spike in COVID-19. I believe that, too, for the very reasons that you noted, going from mask to no mask, people that maybe have decided not to become vaccinated, I mean, there are a lot of mitigating factors that can affect whether there’ll be a spike or not.

Gosh, just like we see seasonal flu increases I think we’re going to continue to see seasonal COVID increases, but, hopefully, the mortality won’t be as high or won’t be high at all, the people will, just like with the flu, and they’ll recover. But that goes back to that whole herd immunity precept where people build that herd immunity, they have the antibodies in them and whatever the variant of the flu is or the variant of the COVID-19 infection is resistant or rather not resistant to those antibodies that individuals develop.

Glynn Cosker: Right. And that’s been true over the centuries. Once somebody has either had the disease and survived or is vaccinated against the disease, then their antibodies are there to protect them and herd immunity saves lives, obviously.

Now, the other elephant in the room here is that COVID-19, as horrible as it has been, is nothing compared to what some pandemics might be. Heaven forbid we have something as serious as Ebola or worse affect the US. I mean, what have we learned from the last 18 months, what have we learned?

Should there be a huge big book in the White House right now which says these are the things we got right, these are the things we got wrong. What can we learn from COVID-19, how can we prevent future pandemics from spreading or affecting the American people the way that COVID-19 did?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Oh, gosh, yes. There should be. In fact, it usually takes, its doctrine, for how to deal with and respond to any crisis, whether it’s a pandemic or an act of terrorism or anything, the doctrine is developed by the experiences learned. And that doctrine comes from after-action reports or comes from hearings, it comes from testimony by experts. And I think that there certainly will be one. But, again, I’m going to come back to what I think is really important in this, is that the politics stay out of it and the science run it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a blue state or a red state, that makes no difference. The science has to run it. The doctrine has to be developed from what we’ve learned by the cases that have come forward. And the Spanish flu, for example, I mean, look what we learned from that. COVID was actually compared to Spanish flu in a lot of ways back around World War I when that hit.

God help us if we have a hemorrhagic Ebola-type fever pandemic strike, because it’s not a matter of having symptoms and becoming ill. Hemorrhagic fever, you catch that, you don’t have weeks, sometimes you don’t even have days.

So, yeah, I think that public health, and I will say that the US public health service, I think, has done a very good job with their local public health agencies in making sure that people are educated and informed.

I think that the doctrine needs not only to be developed but needs to be refined going forward through whatever case analysis may occur. I think that you’ll see a far safer country. I think that you see people now that prior to COVID-19 probably didn’t even realize that they had a public health agency in their local community. So I think that public health professionals will seize or have already seized upon the initiative to educate people as to what to expect should they become infected with the disease.

So, yes, long-winded question. Absolutely, there needs to be a book in the White House that says this is what you do when this happens, without a doubt.

Glynn Cosker: I agree. Absolutely. And the things that you just mentioned there are some of the positives that come out of COVID-19, and people are aware of their local public health establishments and such. And for all the negative stuff that’s come out, there are some positives.

I’m Glynn Cosker. My guest today has been Dr. Christopher Reynolds. It’s always a pleasure to speak with him. Please join us for the next podcast, and until that time stay safe.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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