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Season 1: New York doctor worries that the public is not taking COVID-19 seriously

Dr. Michele Summers, Physician and College Instructor, responds

This interview took place on April 02, 2020.

Michele and I met online before we met in person. From a social media marketing conference in California to another event in New York City, we struck up some conversation and have kept in touch since. When the COVID-19 threat began, we caught each other's attention on Facebook when I was explaining the statistics, and she was explaining the clinical and political aspects.

Guest bio:

Dr. Michele is the author of Body Wisdom: 10 Weeks to Transformation and the creator of the podcast Body Wisdom with Dr. Michele. She is also a physician specializing in autoimmune disease, an Ayurvedic health coach, and a certified yoga teacher, offering workshops and online courses based on her book. She hopes to inspire women to live happier, healthier lives that honor their own bodies, wants, and desires.




Sally Hendrick (00:08):

News stories were coming in about this strange virus in Wuhan, China. It was weeks before we saw the first cases in the US. As the numbers went up each day, my curiosity got the best of me, and I started plotting the curves. Hear stories from real people all over the world and how they've responded. I'm Sally Hendrick, founder of Shout Your Cause, and this is COVID-19: The World Responds.

Sally Hendrick (00:38):

So Hey Michelle, how are you doing? I haven't seen you in a couple of years.

Michele Summers (00:42):

I know it's been so long. I'm so good to see. Glad to see you on video.

Sally Hendrick (00:45):

Yeah, it is good to see you. So you are in, where are you now? New York.

Michele Summers (00:51):

New York. Yup.

Sally Hendrick (00:52):

Okay. And tell us a little bit about what you do, who you are, that sort of thing.

Michele Summers (00:58):

Okay, so I'm a physician, a podiatrist's that I've been doing that for 25 years almost. And I recently relocated from California to New York. So I sold my practice and we located here and I've been working for a different doctors part time and a recently started working at one of the local colleges. So I'm teaching anatomy and physiology and biology to the nursing students here. And most of them are applying for their nursing degree. So they're lovely students because they, they're trying really hard cause they want to get into this next level program. And I teach yoga a couple of days a week or a couple classes a week, I should say, around town. And I still have my online health coaching, which I do part time. So a little bit of part time of all of those above.

Sally Hendrick (01:54):

Well, it's a lot of things, a lot of hats to wear. Well, what, the reason I reached out to you is because I've been noticing you posting a lot about at COVID-19 I've been posting a lot about COVID-19 we've gotten into lots of comment threads together to comment on the statistics and what's happening and the messaging and all of that. So why don't you give me your perspective on what you're seeing with COVID-19 right now?

Michele Summers (02:29):

Yeah, well what I've been noticing is that I think some people weren't taking it as seriously as they should have initially. And so that's caused a lot of the public to not take it as seriously. And so I think we're doing a lot of catch up in trying to get people on board in terms of what to do, what they need to do to be safe. In terms of the numbers, I mean I've been following the numbers very closely from the beginning and even the first model that came out that it tried explain to people what exponential math is and how you know, a pandemic spread and all of that. I've just been trying to share as much information from cited articles, scientific journals and things like that so that people will take it seriously. Because if it's just an opinion, even though I am a doctor people still want to see proof.

Sally Hendrick (03:22):

Yeah, they do. And with the politics of late, we've had a lot of people deny that any news is real and that, so it makes it really hard to convince people of anything these days, especially if they were of the mentality that anything being reported online is up for grabs as far as whether you believe it or not.

Michele Summers (03:50):

Yeah. Yeah. I've seen that too on a couple of the articles I shared. If it wasn't from a very, very, very reputable source or a scientific article, people were saying, well that's just so opinion and then I have to come back with the second article that scientific to back it up because they're, you know, they're saying, well that that place is fake news or this one is just an opinion. So yeah, it's been a little challenging in that way.

Sally Hendrick (04:14):

Now in New York, are you seeing a lot of people taking this very seriously because the perspective here in Tennessee is very different than what you're seeing?

Michele Summers (04:25):

Yeah, well I'm closer to Albany, so we're not right in the center of where all of the, you know, stuff that we're seeing on the news is happening. So people are taking it seriously. As you know, we were one of the first States to close all the schools and let the students know, like our schools let the students know right off the bat. School's not coming back until the summer. Like as soon as they shut down, they said that. So it was pretty, pretty evident and a lot of people are still wondering if their schools are going to open back up. So the school is to get very seriously than the businesses and it just was kind of a, a one like a domino effect. It was first the schools, then businesses and then gyms and, and things like that. But once it started coming out that this business or that business was going to have to close and they all pretty much just started doing it and everyone's been really like helpful to each other and nice around town.

Michele Summers (05:19):

Like, if, if I go out on a walk, I don't see that many people. Like I've seen pictures that friends have shared from other States where they go out for a few minutes and it's crowded. If I go out for a walk with my dog that's like a half an hour walk, I might see two people on the whole block, you know, on the whole wall. So people are staying in, people are taking it seriously. But but there's still some work that needs to be done cause I don't see people, you know, wearing masks that much or anything like that. So

Sally Hendrick (05:47):

Yeah. And that's just the most recent thing coming out of the CDC. Right. Or have they already officially said that they want people just people to wear masks?

Michele Summers (05:59):

They haven't said that officially. They started talking about it two days ago that they were considering changing their wording on their website, but they haven't done that yet. And so a lot of people are saying they're not going to change their behaviors about it until that comes out. But for example, Los Angeles came out with a citywide statement today saying masks on everybody in the entire city. So this is the first city that I've seen do it. So I shared that because you know, I moved out here from LA and so a lot of my friends are in LA and I shared that today and I said, you know, kudos to LA mayor for doing that. And it's the first city of many. It's gonna eventually be universal, but that's just the first one to do it.

Sally Hendrick (06:44):

Yeah. So you happen to have some connections to who know what is going on behind the scenes as far as the data models, the statistical models and so on and so forth. What kind of information can you share with me about what, you know, how long you've known, how serious this is, what they've been seeing, what, what do you got from for that?

Michele Summers (07:08):

Well, what I know is the numbers are changing every two to three days. They have to rerun the numbers because that's how long it takes for all the hospitals and all the doctors to report, you know, to the States. And then the States have to send their numbers in. So everything that they're doing is, you know, usually like a day or two behind. And so they're re-running the numbers, re-calculating the models every couple days. And that's why you sometimes see like a little blip in the model. Like it might look like things might be evening out for a minute and then it goes right back up because you know, there it goes, there came all the data, all the data just came in.

Sally Hendrick (07:46):

Right. Now are you talking about straight up raw data or are you talking about the actual curves? Are those being re-evaluated every few days as well?

Michele Summers (07:54):


Sally Hendrick (07:55):

Yes. And then are you talking about like the ones, the ones that I've looked at lately were published on I H M E site. It's the healthdata.org site out of Washington state. Is that something that you're looking at or that they are looking at?

Michele Summers (08:15):

Yeah, I think they're looking at all the data, all the models. I know there's at least you've been on, even the white house was saying that they have five main models that they're looking at and they look at all of that and kind of decide which one they're going to go with. Or sometimes they kind of average them out. So that's why when they talk about it, they said, well, according to this model, the peak might hit New York in seven days. But according to this other model, it's saying 21 days. So we don't know if it's a range. And they sometimes go with the middle and say, okay, it's at least another couple of weeks.

Sally Hendrick (08:47):

Yeah, well and I did actuarial science for a long time, so I know you want to see as many models, as many methods as you possibly can because some are going to be completely on the extremes and then others are going to hover around a similar area. And so you want to be able to exclude the extremes, have, you know, go to the ones that are hovering, find a reasonable range. You can do worst case and best case scenarios, but you're wanting to look for that line in the middle that gives you something you can communicate to the public or to whomever is needing to hear the numbers because it's hard. It's a very hard thing to estimate. And of course we don't know the effects of the social distancing, the stay at home, the shelter at home, all of the masks, all of these things. We're not going to really know the outcome of how long this goes until until the real data comes in. And unfortunately, and I saw you post this the other day, is that people are going to argue and say, well, you were wrong, but, but what's happening is, is that you've got to put the theoretical thing out there based on everything that you possibly know. And you want to be wrong because you want that to influence the public to do the right thing, to change the direction of the pandemic,

Michele Summers (10:19):

Right? So if everyone does, you know what's been asked of them and stayed home, then the graphs could look this way, right? They'll flatten out, right? So that happens and then the graphs are flatter, then people can look back and say, Oh, it wasn't as bad as we thought. Right. That's what you're saying. And if people do nothing and the graphs shoot way up, like you know, they're still doing and in some areas like New York, then it looks like we're not doing anything because they're still going up. But

Sally Hendrick (10:48):

So it's just a chaos management, right?

Michele Summers (10:50):

Yeah, it's exactly, it's hard to show people until after the fact, like, okay, look, once we started doing this, you see how the, how the curve started going, not as high. It's kind of still going up, but it's going up at a different angle.

Sally Hendrick (11:05):

Yesterday I posted something and a friend of mine said, I really liked that example. If you think about it, and let's just assume that your city has a hundred inches of rain every year on average. And that's the model, right? If you get all hundred inches of rain over a few weeks, you're going to have an incredibly wet, soggy soppy, you know, flooded area. Yes. But if you extend that rain out over the year or over several months or whatever that may be, then you're looking at something that the earth and the world can handle. That's the entire reason why we want to spread this out because first of all, we can't stop the spread at this point. We don't have any way of doing that. We don't have vaccines, we don't have you know, we have some treatments that are starting to be implemented, which I wouldn't want to ask you about. But as far as like stopping this in its tracks, it's just not happening. It's not going to be happening like anytime soon. We've got a lot to go through first. And so as far as that is concerned, what are some of the treatments, do you know about any of that that's happening? Cause I've been hearing things,

Michele Summers (12:32):

Well, I know that they're getting good results using combinations of drugs and the ones that they've talked about on TV using the Azithromycin or the Z pack. A lot of people know it as the Z pack. Using that in combination with that anti-malaria drug that has been shown to be effective in your about in some cases here. And so that's one of the ones they're working on, but they're also working on some interferons and some other some other strong medications that they're just trying different combinations right now of things that have been working in other places that had this happened before we did and trying to find out the best combination.

Sally Hendrick (13:14):

Right. And what do we know or will we know at any point what the side effects might be of that treatment.

Michele Summers (13:22):

Yeah, that's hard to say. It's, you know, it's really hard to say. It also depends on what people, like what comorbidities they had, you know, did they have diabetes, did they have high blood pressure or lung disease before this started?

Sally Hendrick (13:36):

And so these drugs are being used to help treat the pneumonia aspect of things. Yeah. Cause that's the part that's killing people because they came to the pneumonia and then the flu. The flu. Yeah. Okay. Was there anything else that you would like to add to the conversation before we wrap it up?

Michele Summers (13:58):

Well, just back when we were talking about the numbers a few minutes ago, like one of the things that people keep asking me and keep asking all the to all of the politicians on the press conferences is when is this going to be over, you know, based on this model and that model. And that's one of those things that no one knows because we still don't know what's going to happen with all of those curves yet. You know, it's like if it goes like this, then it could be over at this time. If it goes like that, you know, we don't know about a second spread. Like for example, in some of the countries in Asia where they really got their numbers down or their curves are down or flattening out, are they going to start seeing new cases as they start opening up their borders and people start coming in that are asymptomatic? Are they going to the arise again? Probably. And that could happen here too. So we have to keep everything as low as we can for as long as we can. So there's no way to know when this was going to be over cause that's probably one of the most questions, common questions I've been getting from friends.

Sally Hendrick (15:00):

Well yeah, we don't know and I've seen things as far as August. I've also seen things to be lifting around July, but then of course the government is, it's like they're metering out, they're spoonfeeding saying, well close this until the end of April or close this until you know, whatever. And I feel like that's just a public management type response as opposed to a true scientific response.

Michele Summers (15:29):

Yeah. I think if they would've just shut everything down all at once in one day, that would have just been everything collapsing and mayhem. And so they're doing it kind of in stages. I think at this point in the game, all the States should be on board though and should have all of the same policies in place. Right? Like all the screens you would think like all the schools are closed and everyone's sheltering at home and no gatherings and all this stuff. And a couple more States have done it like just today the Georgia governor did it and I think yesterday the Florida governor did it with a couple of exceptions to his ruling like churches. But you would think that at least at this point all of the States would be on board and there's still a few that aren't and we're just going to see more cases pop up in those areas in a faster rate than in the other areas.

Sally Hendrick (16:17):

Yeah. Now travel is still okay. Right now there's very limited domestic travel, like on airplanes. Right. They've really shut down a lot of the flights. People are not taking them I guess. But I wonder about people driving everywhere. Have you heard anything about where people are traveling if they're going anywhere?

Michele Summers (16:41):

I haven't heard anything about driving. I did have a friend who's a flight attendant post that she's still working every day and they're still having daily flights, just not as many because their planes are mostly being used for cargo right now. So they'll have most of it used for cargo and then they'll have like a very limited number of passengers on board and there. And her point was, you know, we still need to get you guys all of your things so we still need to fly so everyone stay home because I need to work everyday and you know, I want to be safe too. I get her point. So

Sally Hendrick (17:13):

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michele Summers (17:15):

Nonessential travel.

Sally Hendrick (17:16):

Yeah, exactly. Okay. Well anything else that you want to mention before we go or,

Michele Summers (17:23):

Yeah, so I also wanted to touch on the mask issue because you know, that's been one of my causes. Like I said, LA just put the city wide statement out for the masks. I've been promoting everyone wearing a masks for weeks and I was just kind of, you know, using another analogy. Like I liked your rain one, but this is another one. So a lot of people are saying they don't want to wear one because it hasn't been, you know, stated by the government yet, but we need to wear one. However, if you had a choice, if, if they think it's 50, 50 like well we might need one, we might not. Well if you have a choice to like go into a building and know that you're going to die or not, whether you wear the mask, would you wear the mask? Of course you'd wear the mask. Cause what it's just like for a minute, you know, you're only going to wear it for a couple of minutes. So why not just wear the mask? Like just be on the safe side. Even if it's a 50, 50 chance, why not just wear the mask but,

Sally Hendrick (18:19):

And granted we're not going to all be able to have like N95 masks or anything, but we could put something on to limit any spread of germs,

Michele Summers (18:29):

Have those kinds of masks. Cause those are, you know, used by the doctors and nurses. But yeah, we should have something we can use. You know, like I went to take my dog out for a walk and I just used a scar. Things like that. I usually don't use it for walks, but I usually only use it from going into a store or for the pharmacy.

Sally Hendrick (18:48):

Yeah. I did go the other day and I had gloves on and everything. I was like, I don't know what to do. I had been in the house for probably 10 days straight without even going, except for the patio here. I had not gone outside into a store at all. And so I finally went over there and I was like, what do I do? And fortunately there were hardly any people in the store. They had toilet paper and paper towels and they did watch to make sure I didn't have more than my fair share because I could see them watching me looking at my cart, you know? Yeah. So,

Michele Summers (19:27):

Okay. So just wear your masks and you know, where your gloves, if you have to be touching things. And if you don't have gloves, just wash your hands or have your hand sanitizer with you as soon as you're done touching things. Like, let's say you have to go to the ATM to get cash or if you're going to get gas for your car or something where you have to touch the pin pads, you know, wash your hands or have hand sanitizer if you don't have gloves. Just little things like that. You don't that you don't think about it. Even when you're getting your groceries and you put your card in the machine, sometimes you have to sign it or enter your pin or whatever and it's like, okay, now what do I do? My hands contaminated. You know,

Sally Hendrick (20:04):

I've been using like the side of my shirt to punch into the front door to get into our building. It's probably not that great, but I at least I wash my hands when I get upstairs, so yeah. Okay. All right. Well thank you so much. This was great getting to talk with you again.

Michele Summers (20:23):

All right, thanks. Good to see you.

Sally Hendrick (20:25):

Alright, you too. Thank you.

Sally Hendrick (20:34):

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