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Michigan Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist Provides Update On Pandemic Cautions & Concerns


Although they are seeing fewer hospitalizations at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, the positivity rate for the virus is increasing, and vaccinations are still seen as the solution to stop the COVID-19 virus in its tracks.

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Michigan Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Payal Patel, who shares the latest information about the virus variant and how we can stay safe and healthy as the pandemic continues.


Lisa Barry: We've been through many stages of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 16 months, and it seems like there is still a lot of confusion about exactly what's happening right now. This is Lisa Barry, and we're fortunate to have many medical professionals in our community whose input and perspective is not nationally and internationally. And we're joined by one of them right now, Dr. Payel Patel, an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine. Thank you, Dr. Patel, for taking the time to talk to us.

Dr. Payal Patel: Of course.

Lisa Barry: You've been on the so-called medical front lines since this began. And I'm wondering, how does the pandemic look from the hospital perspective at this time to you?

Payal Patel
Credit Michigan Medicine / uofmhealth.org
Dr. Payal Patel

Dr. Payal Patel: We're definitely in a different place than we were a year ago, a little bit over a year ago. Many more people are vaccinated now. So that's really good news. You know, thinking about this from just our perspective here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we are seeing less people that are hospitalized than we had been, for sure, one year ago. But we are concerned. We're hearing from our colleagues nationally that they're getting more and more ICU admissions of unvaccinated patients. So, I think we're not in a bubble, and we're cautious right now.

Lisa Barry: I've heard the term "summer surge" that you just referred to that's happening nationally. Is that happening in the Ann Arbor area?

Dr. Payel Patel: What we're seeing and what my colleagues are seeing as well at Michigan Medicine is we're seeing an increase in the positivity rate. So, you know, as we go day by day, more and more people, unfortunately, are testing positive.

Lisa Barry: We heard many times that if you're vaccinated, you're pretty well-protected. But it seems like we are hearing more lately about so-called breakthrough cases of people getting COVID-19 even though there are vaccinated. Are you seeing that locally?

Dr. Payal Patel: Yes. And I think that, unfortunately, we are seeing that. Luckily, most of these people who have breakthrough cases are not sick enough to need hospital admission. So, that's the good news if you're vaccinated. However, a lot of the people that are ending up admitted are often not vaccinated.

Lisa Barry: Are the symptoms the same for COVID if you are vaccinated versus not vaccinated?

Dr. Payal Patel: No, they're very different, I would say, for those people who have been vaccinated, some of the symptoms that you might have if you were to have a case would be perhaps mild in nature, such as a sore throat, fever, whereas you're going to feel kind of run over and may end up going to the hospital, maybe getting admitted to the ICU and maybe never leaving the hospital if you're unvaccinated.

Lisa Barry: As an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine, how concerned are you about this Delta variant? Seems like we're hearing a lot about it.

Dr. Payal Patel: You know, it is very concerning. It's basically what we're seeing worldwide. The virus itself has gotten smarter and stronger over this last year. And so, we're seeing that it's more infective. We're seeing people get sicker with it. We are seeing people are dying more with it across the world. And so, the longer that we have people unvaccinated in this country, the easier it's going to be for this variant to spread.

Lisa Barry: Let's talk about getting vaccinated. We're close to 70 percent here in Washtenaw County. What do you want to say to the other 30 percent who might still be hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Payal Patel: You know, I think that the biggest step that we can take to really stop the Delta variant is to increase that vaccination rate. And even if you have gotten vaccinated, if there's someone in your close family, someone that you care about, that is still kind of hesitant, isn't sure, this is the time to really be pushing them. I think that we had a lot of time for people to kind of think about the pros and cons, but we've kind of come to a precipice here. And I see that a lot of companies, the NFL, are starting to mandate vaccines. And I think, unfortunately, that's going to be the next step if people can't make that decision for themselves.

Lisa Barry: It seems like it's becoming a bit of a social issue as well. Can you socialize with people who are unvaccinated? What is the risk of that? If you've chosen to be vaccinated and you're vaccinated, but, say, there's an outing or an event, and you know people who aren't vaccinated, are you increasing your risk of getting the virus?

Dr. Payal Patel: You know, unfortunately, as we see this virus change and become stronger and the Delta variant become the main kind of variant that's out in the US nowadays, unfortunately, it's probably going to change kind of what we were thinking about the summer. I know when I think about talking to my own family that is vaccinated, I am telling them, you know, I might avoid a large event with a number of people who you may or may not know if they're vaccinated or not, or staying indoors, you know, with a lot of people where you don't know their vaccinations, vaccination status, it can get difficult. And so, again, we also have the X factor of all of the kids out there who are still unvaccinated. So, I think, thinking about all of this as we move forward into this next part of this year, if you're a parent thinking about vaccinations for your kids coming up, that's really going to be the way to protect your family, protect your kids. And if you're still not sure about the vaccine, again, remembering that you're just not protecting yourself, but the ones around you as well.

Lisa Barry: What about being outside? We felt some safety that it was less contagious outside.

Dr. Payal Patel: Yeah. You know, like, unfortunately, you know, again, the virus has become stronger, and it's learned how to infect easier. If you're jogging by yourself, working out, exercising, again, no need to wear a mask. But if you are going to be in close proximity around others for hours, you know, maybe a summer festival or something like that where you don't know the others and whether they're vaccinated or not, we're starting to see some cases, unfortunately. So I think thinking about all of those risk factors, as you think about what you're doing for the rest of the summer.

Lisa Barry: So, wear a mask outside?

Dr. Payal Patel: I think that, in most cases, you still do not need to wear a mask outside. But, again, if you're thinking about going to some sort of music festival or a party with a lot of other people, where you're going to be very close to other people for a long time, it probably would be in your best interest to think about wearing a mask.

Lisa Barry: You mean indoors?

Dr. Payal Patel: Indoors. And, you know, unfortunately, we just saw in a music festival here in Michigan a few weeks ago, a multiple cases coming out of an outdoor music festival. So, this Delta variant, unfortunately, has become more infectious.

Lisa Barry: I know I hear a lot of concerns and questions from people in our community. And then, I read an article quoting a medical professional that said vaccinated people are still protected. But the more virus that's circulating in the community, the more likely it is that people both unvaccinated and vaccinated will get it. What do you have to say about that? 

Dr. Payal Patel: Yeah, that's exactly right. You know, in general, if you're vaccinated, you're in a totally different place than you were months ago, a year ago, before you were vaccinated. Now, unfortunately, as this variant continues to grow, the unvaccinated are basically helping the virus get stronger. So, the one variable that we can control is to get more people vaccinated, so that we can get the virus under control and feel safer doing the things that we want to do for the rest of the summer.

Lisa Barry: You said two words: feel safer. And I think, probably like a month ago, we were starting to feel safer. And now, we're hearing more about the variant. And I'm hearing you say maybe you want to wear a mask, even outdoors. I'm looking at the up and down and flattening the curve. And what can you quantify exactly what is happening now and how concerned should we be moving through the community?

Dr. Payal Patel: Yeah, I think that, you know, one thing that is never sure is, you know, the future, right? And so, I think that when the vaccines came out, many of us were optimistic, hope that, you know, that they're very effective, hope to that many people would get the vaccine. And really many people have gotten the vaccine. You said 70 percent, locally, of us. We think about how many senior citizens have gotten the vaccine. It's an incredible amount of people. However, there is still a lot of people who haven't gotten vaccinated. And this is a very interesting virus, a smart virus, that has continued to grow stronger and will continue to grow stronger as long as we let it. So, I think that the one thing that we can really do to stop it in its tracks is get as many people vaccinated as possible, and that will help us predict the future a little better.

Lisa Barry: We're getting closer to back to school time. Do you feel good about everyone back in the classroom?

Dr. Payal Patel: You know, I think that it's been a really, really tough year. And I know parents and children would agree. I feel very, very optimistic that we will be seeing vaccines coming out for children this fall. And I think that's really going to be a game changer. And I really hope that we get a lot of kids vaccinated for the upcoming fall school year.

Lisa Barry: So, you still think the ultimate solution is for everyone to get vaccinated and that would stop the variant and that would stop those already vaccinated getting the virus? [

Dr. Payal Patel: Yes. Not just me. I think the science community, infectious disease community, public health community, would agree that the easiest solution is having people get vaccinated. The hardest part was getting the vaccine. We got the vaccines, and now there is a glut of vaccine out in the US community. Now we just need to get Americans vaccinated.

Lisa Barry: Dr. Payal Patel, an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine. Thank you so much for talking to us here on Eighty-Nine one WEMU.

Dr. Payal Patel: Thank you.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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