Retired Tempe doctor’s view of pandemic, now vs past

By Joyce Coronel

As the healthcare establishment continues its battle against COVID-19, a retired Tempe physician, once a high-profile leader in the medical community, offered his take on the crisis.

“Richardson,” we’ll call him—the plain-spoken doctor prefers not to be identified by name—recalls when the nation faced the Asian flu in 1956 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968.

“They were pretty bad but they were not like this,” Richardson said. “We’ve seldom have anything where the entire world is susceptible. That’s why the numbers can be so incredible.”

No one has immunity to COVID-19 until they’ve had it and survived it, he explained. “We have no vaccine and nobody’s been exposed to this before so that’s why it has the potential to overrun the hospitals even though most people are not very sick.”

On the day Wrangler News interviewed Richardson, the total U.S. death toll from COVID-19 stood at 97. Three days later, it had more than doubled. At press time, the number of deaths in the U.S. from the illness was 804.

(Editor’s note: On March 27th at 9:00 a.m., the number of deaths in the U.S. was 1,321)

Empty shelves in the paper-goods aisle at a Tempe Walmart were one more sign of rising public concern over COVID-19.

Like other residents of Tempe and Chandler, Richardson has noticed the scarcity of staple items such as eggs, toilet paper and chicken. Outside a Tempe grocery store at 6.a.m. on a Friday morning, more than 100 people waited to enter the building. Not an ounce of chicken was to be had but there was a limited supply of eggs.

“That’s pure fear. We haven’t eaten so many eggs that we’re out of eggs but many people are hoarding,” Richardson said. “I think that will have to settle down because the chickens are still working. We’ll have more eggs. When everybody’s refrigerator gets full, why then we’ll stop buying more but it will take a while.”

Like many others, Richardson looks toward the day when a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 will be found. Medical experts say that may take anywhere from eight to 18 months.

“We can’t everybody get sick at once which is kind of what they were afraid of,” Richardson said. Hospitals only have so many ventilators and sometimes have to rent equipment during the regular flu season. Should they become swamped by COVID-19 sufferers, the thought is that they could run short of life-saving equipment. In Italy, hospitals were rationing ventilators.

We will get over it, but is it going to be in two months like people are talking about or is it going to drag through the summer and then flare up again next winter as respiratory infections always do?  We just don’t know.”

Since respiratory illnesses are mostly a wintertime thing, Richardson hopes the coming hot weather will help dampen the number of COVID-19 cases. He said he’s not sure what lessons the medical establishment will take away from the crisis.

“Maybe they’ll start hoarding ventilators,” he chuckled.

In the meantime, he hopes that one lesson learned will be that the U.S. needs to produce more of its own pharmaceuticals.

“It will take some time but we can change that, so that at least we have alternatives. They don’t have to all be here, but they can’t all be in China.”

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