If Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, ever wanted to take a day off, maybe Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rob Westin could fill in.

Westin, a family physician, gave an hour-long Zoom presentation Wednesday, June 24, about COVID-19 in what was billed as “COVID 101,” and his delivery was fact-based like Fauci’s.

“Even though we might have 100 cases in Crow Wing County now, it’s not been an overwhelming infection for our area yet,” Westin said thankfully.

The Minnesota Department of Health Wednesday reported five more Minnesotans died from COVID-19, and 304 had tested positive for the illness.

“We were very concerned when the riots and the social unrest happened in the Cities, after Memorial Day and the tragic death of George Floyd, that that would result in cases going up but we really haven’t seen that here, which is very good,” Westin said.

According to county officials, there were 3,906 people who were tested in Crow Wing County, as of June 18, for the coronavirus, which is responsible for COVID-19, the potentially fatal respiratory disease.

“Here at CRMC in Crosby, we operated like this was a really bad natural disaster or a mass casualty kind of an event from Day One,” he said. “Multiple representatives from our different departments were meeting every day, for many hours a day, planning on how we would respond if this got bad in our area.”

Just the facts

Any older adult who was concerned or wanted to learn more about COVID-19 and how to live their lives in a healthy manner were encouraged to watch and listen to the online presentation.

“You know ‘What have we learned?’ and ‘Will this ever end?’ because, honestly, that’s kind of our goal, obviously, is ‘When are we going to get over this, when can life get back to normal?’ Kind of a misnomer we’re using is ‘normal’ because … if you’ve lost half a million people across the world, it’s not going to seem normal ever again probably,” he said.

Crow Wing County partnered with Cuyuna Area Connections on the event “to help remove boundaries, build networks and provide education to sustain independence for aging community members and caregivers.” Cuyuna Area Connections is one of four pilot programs in Minnesota of the Silos to Circles Age Well Initiative.

Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.
Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.



“Announcements that certain medicines might work -- the whole hydroxychloroquine news releases and the confusion there — and that became more political than science-driven, which was pretty frustrating from a medical standpoint. Now we still don’t have a definitive answer on that, but as you probably read, FDA is kind of backing away from that being a recommended treatment now,” he said.

Topics in the presentation included what precautions to take, symptoms to look for, opportunities to connect with others, how to be resilient during stressful times, and how the region’s current COVID-19 outlook compares to the state or national.

“I don’t pretend to be a politician either but not a lot of help from the national side of things, you know? Basically, just the message was ‘survival of the fittest’ ... call everybody that you know and get what you can,” Westin said of the federal government providing personal protective equipment. “That really wasn’t super helpful during the middle of it.”

Through their Fishing for Masks campaign, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Essentia Health are seeking continued support from area communities for homemade cloth masks that help limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect patients, staff and communities.

“Thankfully, we didn’t end up in a crisis of being absolutely short of everything, but there were times when we were down on supplies and really we're wondering if this number keeps cranking up, we’ll be in trouble,” Westin said.

The total number of Minnesotans who have died from COVID-19 has now reached 1,397, and the number who have become sickened with the illness has reached 33,763.

‘Obviously, statewide, we’ve seen more of a decline now in the last several weeks in the infections and deaths. … The question with the response of Minnesota having the stay-at-home orders from the governor and the masking and all the social distancing, (it) seems like it's worked,” Westin said.

Masks as politics

Whether or not to wear a mask — as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends — has become a hotly contested political issue in some parts of the country.

“We all wear masks to protect us from getting other people sick. But if we all do it, then the risk of us transmitting that infection from person to person is cut, they think, by as much as 40%, so that is a significant benefit to doing that,” he said of the science, not politics. “That's a huge number if you’re talking about 9 million cases in the world. If you can reduce the transmission of that by 40%, you might save millions of infections beyond today.”

Illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.
Illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.

Westin acknowledged social distancing and the stay-at-home order by the governor to slow the spread or transmission of the coronavirus could have negatively affected mental health.

“There are also things that we can do that are safe … getting out and walking with a friend or going to a park or going on a pontoon ride where you can be spaced out. All are possible within these social distancing guidelines ... that don’t require you just to be sitting at home in a chair. … Fresh air is always good for us, and that’s good for our mental health, too,” he said.

Regarding those who contract the virus, 80% do not get seriously ill, and between 5% to 10% might end up in an intensive care unit, according to Westin.

“Of that 5% that end up in intensive care, if you happen to be a senior citizen or over 65, in that age group, the chances of you getting through that, well, are very dire. I mean it’s actually 50-50 at best ... that if you’re on a ventilator, the chance of getting through that is 50-50,” he said.

Westin ended his presentation by encouraging people to continue washing their hands and to social distance — maintaining at least 6 feet between themselves and anyone next to them — in addition to wearing masks in public or in crowds, especially as more businesses reopen.

“Like I said, it’s been politicized. … This is just common-sense public health, trying to be a good citizen, honestly, protecting your family and friends from something that you may not even know you have, and in the future, spreading that to them,” he said of the virus. “They’ve been proven to work, and it’s really the armor and the weapons that we have right now, as weird as that seems. … We will potentially learn ways to deal with prevention and treating it in the future, but it’s not gone yet.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.