Some People Worry About The Vaccines Because They Were Developed So Quickly
More Than Half CoV-2 Transmission Comes From People Without COVID-19 Symptoms

The Lesson Behind The Long Recovery From COVID-19 For A Young Physician Assistant

This is an update to a story published on March 10, 2020 by MedPageToday. You can read the original piece here.

In March, James Cai, a physician assistant and New Jersey's first COVID-19 patient, made headlines for warning the country that even young, healthy 32-year-olds like himself were vulnerable to the virus. He came down with the disease in early March and was admitted to the hospital on March 3. Because the disease was so new, he was worried that he wasn't getting the right treatment at the hospital, so he took his case to Twitter.

In the beginning, he was treated like he had a serious case of the flu. He received high-flow oxygen, chloroquine, and lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra), and was one of the first patients to receive remdesivir under compassionate use approval. He was able to connect with Chinese physicians who had experience with the disease, and a Chinese-American doctor translated the Chinese protocols into English for Cai's New Jersey doctors.

He was discharged on March 21, but still needed supplemental oxygen -- especially at night. A month after his discharge he went back to work as a physician assistant, but only virtually and half-time. But even by mid-summer, Cai was still seeing impairments in his oxygen saturation and activity levels. His O2 saturation was 97% during the day, which is good, but it dropped to 90% when he lay down to sleep, necessitating the oxygen supplement. He tired very easily and was unable to run and exercise like he did before. Through that time, he was taking dual anticoagulant therapy of Xarelto and aspirin.

In late summer, things started to look up. On August 21, he confirmed that he could sleep through the night without oxygen, but the results of his latest chest CT showed permanent fibrotic lung damage in his left lower lung. As of December, he was still testing positive for coronavirus antibodies.

We still do not know why some people, especially young, healthy people can be so hard hit by the virus while others are not. Why did Cai become so ill and suffer permanent lung damage, while a couple of my nearly 70 year old friends caught it and had milder, temporary symptoms? It will be a while before we understand this.

This story also illustrates the folly of just looking at mortality numbers when assessing COVID risk. The death rate for COVID-19  is low, about 1% or less of people who get infected die from the disease, so some folks cite that low death risk and take a cavalier approach and avoid social restrictions designed to slow the virus spread. By focusing on that simple statistic, they ignore the fact that COVID is now the leading cause of death in the US by far and has killed 10 times the number of people who are killed by seasonal flu. The devastating 1918 Spanish flu also had a very low death rate, but in just 24 weeks, it killed more people around the world than were killed in the 10 years of WWI and WWII combined!

And those people who cherry pick their statistics to justify their careless behavior ignore the greater number of people like Cai who survive the disease, but suffer long term and even permanent health problems. Is it really worth the risk of permanent lung damage to exercise your freedom to not wear a mask?


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