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Local doctor discusses COVID-19 vaccine and myths about masks


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IDAHO FALLS — With COVID-19 cases on the rise in eastern Idaho, many of us are wondering when this will be over.

Some good news is that drugmaker Pfizer announced this week that data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective. The pharmaceutical giant said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration after volunteers have been monitored for two months following their second dose of that vaccine. That could come as early as next week.

Meanwhile, 127 people in eastern Idaho have died from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. Statewide, there have been 749 deaths, with most of them in the elderly population. More than 16,500 people have recovered from COVID-19 in eastern Idaho, and more than 33,000 are recovering statewide. sat down with Dr. Boyd Southwick of Family First Medical Center in Idaho Falls to discuss the vaccine, myths about masks and how coronavirus is affecting the local medical community.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview.

NATE EATON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: Dr. Southwick, there was a development this week in the potential for a COVID-19 vaccine. What do you know about it and is this a gamechanger?

DR. BOYD SOUTHWICK: From the very beginning, we felt that a vaccine is the thing that’s going to help us get through this pandemic, but it takes a while to get a vaccine produced. Pfizer announced that it’s a 90-plus percent effective vaccine and that’s really optimistic. Given it is preliminary data, there is time that it needs to be developed for safety, but I’m very optimistic that what we’re going to see is a safe and effective vaccine that can really help us get through this pandemic safely.

EATON: That’s what everybody is hoping for, but it might be a few months away. Until then, what do we need to be doing?

SOUTHWICK: The best thing we can do is what our public health department, scientists and doctors have said from the beginning: social distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands. There’s a lot of good evidence, and it’s common sense that these strategies really do help to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

EATON: You mentioned masks. One argument some people make about masks is they can be dangerous and restrict oxygen flow or build bacteria behind the masks. You’re a doctor. What can you tell us about these theories?

SOUTHWICK: The two things about masks that we need to keep in mind is we want to make sure they are safe and effective. From a safety standpoint, there have been some theories that because of moisture that can build up inside the masks, it can trap bacteria and viruses. What we’ve found through science is it’s really not true as far as it causing you illness.

“We have to learn together about how we’re going to handle this.”

The bacteria and viruses you may expel that get caught in the mask are the same ones that were in you to begin with. They’re not going to cause you infection. However, it’s important that you wear the mask appropriately so if too much moisture builds up, change the mask. You should launder the mask at the end of every day and change masks so you’re not repeating the same one every single day. As for disposable masks, you should also discard them at the end of the day. But the science has shown us that wearing a mask all day long is really not dangerous to your health.

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EATON: Surgeons have been doing that for decades.

SOUTHWICK: Absolutely. In fact, for many, many years, Asians have used masks pretty commonly in public from the standpoint of outbreaks or sickness. Health care workers, as you mentioned, have been using them for many years for long periods of time, and there have been no health issues seen by doing that.

I’ve heard some say people aren’t wearing their masks correctly so if you fidget with them and touch your face, that makes it worse. No doubt we should try to remember not to touch our faces and so if you do, you should hopefully have some hand sanitizer with you that you can cleanse off your hands if you have to do that.

Wearing the mask appropriately by covering the mouth and the nose has been highly effective at decreasing the viral spread.

EATON: The number of COVID-19 patients in eastern Idaho are the highest they’ve been since the pandemic started, and hospitals are filling up as we enter flu season.

SOUTHWICK: The concern is because of the rising numbers, we are running out of health care resources. We want to take care of everybody. We have people all the time who have heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia, and they need to be hospitalized because of the severity of their illness. Unfortunately, we are running out of recourses to be able to do that.

I recently talked to the CEO of EIRMC, and he said that it’s not so much a bed space or a ventilator problem, but he said our human resources, our nurses, are really tapped out. We’re not having enough resources to take care of people, and that’s a real concern. In order to make it so we have enough resources, we need to decrease the amount of sickness that’s happening from this coronavirus.

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EATON: You’ve been practicing 17 years. I’m sure you’ve never seen anything like this.

SOUTHWICK: No. Most people that are alive today have never seen anything like this. This is, no doubt, a huge thing that we’ve never been through before, so we have to learn together about how we’re going to handle this.

Some of the mistrust people may have in the medical profession is they feel like things keep changing, but that’s what science is. When we get more data, we then change recommendations based on that new data so that we can do it for the better health of society and the individual. As we have evolved through this pandemic, we are finding more and more real good scientific ways to help combat the spread of this very infectious disease.

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At the end of the day, Nate, we want to keep our schools open. We want kids to be in sports. We want restaurants open, we want businesses to stay open and we don’t want the economy to suffer as it has. In order for the economy to continue to thrive, we need to decrease the spread of COVID-19. I just urge people to wear a mask. It’s inconvenient, it’s irritating, no one likes to do it, but by wearing a mask you basically say two things: One, “I care about those around me,” and two, “I’m doing my part to help decrease the spread of this very contagious disease.”

More information and resources about COVID-19 can be found here.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated there have been 127 COVID-19 deaths in the Gem State. That was a typo. There have been 127 deaths in eastern Idaho, and 749 deaths statewide. apologizes for the error.