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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022

TIME TO MOVE ON: Turning fear to confidence

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As a physician, I understand the difficulty of having to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty. This has been the case for our political leaders over the last two years during the COVID pandemic. It’s been difficult to balance the prevention efforts for COVID and the economic and educational consequences of these efforts.

Governor Edwards sent a letter to physicians and nurses early in the pandemic with a reminder from Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The verse helped in this time of great fear of the unknown.

COVID has been a devastating disease, but we have learned a great deal over the last few years about the virus’s demographics, transmission, prevention and treatment. The added vaccination and natural immunity of the Omicron variant are leaving us with much greater population immunity. It is time now to make a decision about moving from the epidemic stage to the endemic stage of COVID.

A tendency for all leaders will be to hang on to previous decisions. There will be a tendency to keep doing things just in case. The best approach will be to go against these tendencies and determine a new course with what we’ve learned. I ask our political leaders to consider the following thoughts:

Please end the panic phase of the COVID-19 epidemic. Daily life has been suspended for nearly two years, and it’s not necessary anymore. We need the freedom to reassemble for the daily routines of life pre-pandemic. As the last variant decreases its hold on us over the next few weeks, we should declare the vaccine and mask mandates, lockdowns, school closures and quarantines over.

It won’t mean declaring COVID-19 eradicated. Like influenza, the virus will be with us always though it will be much less a threat. We will continue to manage the virus with vaccinations, natural immunity and therapeutics — like the seasonal flu.

Please get schools back to normal quickly to slow the education loss and negative social and mental health issues associated with the pandemic. The effectiveness of vaccine and mask mandates, quarantines and dependence on virtual learning has little support in well-conceived studies. Children need to be in school and connect with their teacher — no masks or vaccines or quarantines required.

Many European countries learned this at the beginning of the pandemic. The rate of severe illness in children is very low, and school has been a safe place for children in Europe and our country. Louisiana has done better than most states on these school issues, but it would be even better if we were a national leader in returning schools to normal.

Please discourage vaccine mandates in our state. There is no real justification, and the impact on our economy and many individuals is substantial. People who have recovered from COVID have natural resistance — an immunity superior to vaccines. In addition, vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the transmission of the virus to someone else. Vaccine efficacy declines over time, and the impact of removing people with critical job skills from the workforce will have a negative impact on us all.

We know now from a study at Johns Hopkins there is little benefit to lockdowns. Despite great harm, lockdowns did little to flatten the curve. As for health care, the system is not really limited by the number of hospital beds. The limitation is sufficient health-care workforce to take care of people in the beds. The health-care shortage is real, and anything that further decreases people working at the bedside is going in the wrong direction.

Please change messaging to instill hope and confidence — not anxiety and fear. We have monoclonal antibodies and promising new oral treatments coming. The vaccination rate and natural immunity in the most vulnerable people in our population is high. Returning to normal will lessen fear and anxiety. We can return to leading with hope, confidence, common sense and logic.

Fear is a powerful emotion that has been used too much during this epidemic. It is why too many do not feel safe even with the harshest of restrictions. We need to avoid looking backward and holding on to fear.

As God told Isaiah, “Fear not for I am with you.” There is a lot of science now that supports hope, and there is reason more than ever for confidence.

Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is past board chair of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and recently received the Distinguished Service Award from CABL and the NWLA Medical Society.

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