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Expert tries to clear the air on covid-19

by Eplunus Colvin | September 29, 2021 at 3:41 a.m.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19. - Photo by NIAID-RML via AP

Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series

Infectious-disease expert and virologist Dr. Lane Rolling separated covid-19 fact from fiction during the Urban League of Arkansas' forum Monday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Joining the panel with Rolling, who is director of clinical education and research at the Tropical Pathology and Infectious Disease Association, was Mayor Shirley Washington; Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff; UAPB student body president Leon Jones III; CEO of the College of Aspiring Artists, the Rev. Arthur Hunt Jr.; and president and CEO of the Urban League, Scott Hamilton.

The purpose of the town-hall meeting, which also was on Zoom, was to enlighten the community and provide education about the coronavirus, which causes covid-19.

"The most important thing as we go through this process is trying to figure out the misinformation," said Rolling, an Arkansas native. "It's really chaotic we're trying to get a true representation of the picture of the country, but it's about getting the information from the health department, actually talking to my colleagues in the hospitals, nurses and staff that really understand the registration of patients in the hospital, ICU beds and actually understand mortality rates themselves."

According to Rolling, at the rate the country is going, there will be about 1.1 million covid-19 deaths by the new year. Rolling said he believes the rising cases are because people either don't believe the virus is real or don't understand the virus, which changes on a consistent basis every two weeks.

"Right now, we have so many different strains of it, it's unbelievable. There's over 4,000 different strains of coronavirus and you guys only know about 12 of them," said Rolling as he started naming the Greek alphabet variations of the virus.

He also said the virus could be transmitted in three ways -- respiratory, secretion and waste or fecal matter.

"If you understand that and the people understand that, it is not controversial if you wear a mask or not," said Rolling.

Rolling said the efficacy of the vaccines wane after 85 days; therefore a booster shot is needed.

"You will be getting booster shots, two or three, for the next 50 years," he said. "That is a fact. I need people to understand it. An individual is pro-vaccine, you get vaccinated, you have 85 days; after that you're subject to being infected or infecting other folks because you could be infected by another strain."

Rolling said schools became super spreaders of the infection, but even common areas such as an ATM or the produce section of the grocery store can be sources.

Rolling said people must understand their environment and become aware of the situations they are in.

"The produce section at Walmart, people that don't wear a mask or coughing and spitting on your food, your bananas, your tomatoes, squeezing the avocados, you can be infected that way," Rolling explained. "It doesn't matter if you're vaccinated or unvaccinated, masks have to be a part of that front line of defense."

Masks are vital, according to Rolling and can play a part in how long the pandemic lasts.

With the 12 and older population only eligible for vaccinations, Rolling said children under the age of 12 who are not vaccinated will always be the source of infection; therefore having a uniform policy where everybody has to wear a mask would provide a layer of protection.

"We're going to have to come up with the science, medicine and treatments to take care of that population of our society that's not vaccinated and also that is very important for the future of America, in general, getting kids back to school and getting the economy open," said Rolling. "We cannot afford another shutdown."

On a state level, Flowers said there was commentary as to whether students would be able to go back to school creating "confusion."

"In some parts of the country you can't go into unless you prove you are vaccinated," said Flowers. "In other parts of the country, right in Arkansas, there are no mask mandates."

Flowers said some people didn't believe there should be a mask mandate at the school but referred to a teacher who was physically accosted for wearing one.

"It was a terribly frustrating time when we were in session trying to figure out what kind of parameters should be made for our students," said Flowers, who pointed out that a judicial decision later allowed schools to create a mask mandate if they chose.

Rolling said he was still trying to figure out how politics got involved in an infectious disease world. He said he wanted to make sure the information that gets to people comes from credible sources based on the science of medicine and people who have actually been training in the field of infectious diseases.

On a high note, Flowers noted the approval of millions of dollars during the legislative session to hire more nurses to handle the increase in covid-19 hospitalizations.

Flowers said at the height of the surge in August, there were more than 13,000 confirmed covid patients.

"We're not nearly as safe as people want to feel in this beautiful weather and we're not out of the woods," said Flowers.

Safety protocols, understanding the virus, the benefits of being vaccinated are all small but important factors to lower the risk and spread of covid-19, according to Rolling.

"The reality is we're at a point now in this country that we're on the second phase of the second pandemic where the numbers are going to go catastrophic," said Rolling. "It's very important to make sure people have the best information to make the best decisions."

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