What do we know about Covid-19 and what could a new normal look like at the Jersey Shore?
The Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic is not at the finish line yet despite some recent positive trends in terms of cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
"It's been a rollercoaster and fortunately we're finally seeing that the slope has decreased and flattened out but by no means is Covid over," Dr. Ken Sable, the Regional President for Hackensack Meridian Health's Southern Market which oversees Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center and Southern Ocean Medical Center said.
Dr. Sable credits social distancing, hand hygiene and quarantine in our communities with helping to get us to this point.
Early on during the pandemic though, as cases were going up like a rollercoaster so was the need for PPE gear anywhere and everywhere and hospitals and health care networks were not only battling the coronavirus but price gouging as well where suppliers were marking up the essential items.
In March, Dr. Sable told 92.7 WOBM News that they were "literally paying 15-20 times the going rate for a lot of the equipment" but fortunately they had people who knew people who could donate and bring over some PPE for medical personnel.
HMH was trying to secure as much PPE as possible at the time and they continue to do so today.
"We've done a very good job leveraging our ability as a network to secure adequate PPE for our team members and our patients and I think we've done a very good job in protecting our staff and patients," Sable said.
Still, these were tough waters for any health care network or provider to handle and avoid any scenario that leaves them without enough PPE gear.
"I can assure you and everyone out there, that at no time did any of our team members have to wear garbage bags or any of the things that you've seen in some of the New York hospitals when they were getting really tight with PPE gear," Sable said. "We were aggressive and able to secure everything we needed."
Throughout the last three months of the pandemic, Dr. Sable says they've learned new information everyday about the virus and how it spreads.
"Initially we were thinking it's all respiratory transmitted then we learned it was droplet transmitted and we still had questions whether the virus could live on surfaces so we were being extra careful with that," Sable said. "We don't know everything about coronavirus but we're continuing to learn about it."
Dr. Sable said they're optimistic about some of the treatments so far for coronavirus whether it's remdesivir or convalescent plasma.
"We've had good success with people who recovered from the disease and have donated their plasma hoping that the antibodies in their plasma could help patients who are infected recover faster by boosting their immune system to fight off the virus as well," Sable said.
JSUMC has treated more than 100 patients with convalescent plasma to date.
To be eligible to donate convalescent plasma, you must have a prior COVID-19 diagnosis documented by a laboratory test or a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and meet the usual eligibility requirements for routine blood donation.
Community members who meet the criteria and are interested in donating should call 732-776-4406, text 732-232-6159, or email JSUMCPlasma@Hackenackmeridian.org.
There are treatments available and social distancing and hand hygiene methods are helping keep people get and stay healthy but in the long run, a cure will be needed.
"At the end of the day, we either need a vaccine or herd immunity which is a certain percentage, usually 60-70 percent or so of the population to have been infected and recovered in order to truly stop the spread of this virus," Sable said. "Until that time, we're unsure of what's going to happen."
One of the questions being floated around with people recovering from the coronavirus is whether or not they're immune from getting it again.
It's not yet known.
"What we know is that in general, if you are exposed to the coronavirus your body will develop antibodies to it, either IGM and hopefully IGG, which tend to last a period of time but we don't yet know how much antibody is needed to give you immunity and we also don't know how long that immunity would last," Sable said. "So we have to be very careful until studies show those answers. If we don't we're going to be giving false hope to recovered patients that they're no longer able to get the virus and they may have a false sense of security and maybe not be as diligent with their hand hygiene or social distancing."
With still a number of unknowns about the coronavirus here in June mixed with some positive trends, a gradual approach has been taken by the Murphy administration to reopen the economy and allow certain public gatherings and openings.
The debate is over whether it's too fast or too slow and when and how to safely open things back up.
Is now the right time?
"I would definitely say that we need to do it responsibly and pay attention to the details," Sable said. "Obviously social distancing and hand hygiene are key so as businesses begin to reopen paying attention to the ability to maintain that distance and keep their hands clean are going to be paramount."
Social distancing helped flatten the curve during the first wave and it'll be needed again now to prevent another rise in cases that places a burden on first responders and health care workers.
"We were never going to eliminate the virus, that wasn't what we were trying to do because without a vaccine, active therapeutics that were proven or herd immunity we weren't going to be able to do that but the idea of flattening the curve would let us stretch out and spread out the virus and the effects of that so we didn't overwhelm the health care system resources," Sable said. "As we start to reopen we'll probably see a bump back up but the key is that we keep that below the threshold of the resources that we have to be able to take care of these patients."
As for the way we usually greet each other, things are different now and that could be the story long term as well such as with a kiss, hug, handshake or high-five.
"I would definitely recommend that without a vaccine we continue to abstain from the social handshake or hug or kiss until we have a vaccine or herd immunity or perhaps never...perhaps this is the new normal," Sable said.