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Here's What A Former Idaho Health Leader Says About Coronavirus

Sajjad Safari
Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran on Feb. 25, 2020. Iran said Tuesday that more than a dozen people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus.


The coronavirus — officially called COVID-19 — is continuing to spread around the globe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 15 cases in the U.S., including three cases of person-to-person transmission unrelated to global travel.

As the former CEO of St. Luke's in Idaho, Dr. David Pate has an inside view into what hospitals do to prepare for public health pandemics. Pate joined Idaho Matters to help us better understand the global public health crisis.


The doctor notes that there are currently no confirmed cases in Idaho. Pate points to the statistics associated with the virus to help make sense of the risks in the state, and in the U.S. generally. 


“I don’t want to downplay this – we shouldn’t be dismissive – but on the other hand we shouldn’t resort to panic or think we’re going to be overwhelmed,” said Pate.  

Eighty percent of the reported cases worldwide have made a full recovery, and less than 2% have died from the disease.


"[W]e shouldn't be dismissive — but on the other hand we shouldn't resort to panic or think we're going to be overwhelmed." - Dr. David Pate

But he says there’s probably a number of people who have contracted the virus who didn’t get their cases confirmed. Since symptoms mirror those of a common cold or flu, it is likely that some became infected and recovered and never knew they had Coronavirus. 

Pate says with that in mind, the actual death rate is probably lower than 2%. 


“Think about how many people might have had cold symptoms, a cough, and weren’t determined to have coronavirus,” he said. “That denominator is probably bigger.” 


Even in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 began, infection statistics aren’t staggering. Tens of thousands have been infected there, but out of a population of 11 million, “this is not wreaking havoc and spreading through every household, obviously,” he said.


The deaths in China have been concentrated among older individuals with compromised lungs from smoking or immune systems.


“We have more to fear from the influenza that’s going around right now than we do from this,” he said.


But he still said folks should take typical healthy precautions like washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Pate says to pay particular attention after shaking hands with people or being in public places, and to resist touching your face.  


“If people were going to do anything, I wish they would just wash their hands more.” 

Overall, Pate said, Idaho is in good hands. General precaution is helpful, but panic won’t help.

“Idaho is well prepared, our hospitals are well prepared. The state is doing a great job,” he said. 


Are face masks necessary? Not unless you’re in contact with an infected individual or population, Pate said. 

He said that avoiding international travel — especially to places with many cases of COVID-19 like China or Italy — is wise. He also recommends staying away from people who have been exposed to COVID-19, and encouraging those folks to self-quarantine.

Coming up on March 3 at noon, Idaho Matters will learn more from state officials  next week to learn more about what the state is doing to prevent and prepare for COVID-19. If you have a question for state officials, please tweet us or email idahomatters@boisestate.edu.

Have a question or comment for the show? Tweet @KBSX915 using #IdahoMatters

Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.

Samantha Wright is a news reporter and producer for Idaho Matters.