Dr. Nishant Anand

Dr. Nishant Anand, executive vice president and chief medical officer of BayCare Health System

Elected officials, and local medical and business experts each took turns during a telephone town hall meeting April 13 sharing updates on COVID-19 in Pinellas County and trying to give residents something sorely needed these days: peace of mind.

None provided more than Dr. Nishant Anand, executive vice president and chief medical officer of BayCare Health System.

“After several weeks, I can say that I feel cautiously optimistic with some of the progress that’s been made and the direction we’re headed,” he said.

Anand delivered the glimmer of good news during the call that was hosted by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and also included St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, small business consultant Leo Irizarri, and others.

Here are some highlights of what Anand had to say.

• Most people who get COVID-19 are getting better

“In fact, 85% of the people who end up getting the coronavirus actually never ever need to be in the hospital. So we’re seeing some great results.”

He said most people — no matter what age — are equally susceptible to get the virus, but children are doing remarkably well.

“They might not even know that they’re having symptoms,” he said.

The people who should be most concerned are those older than 70, especially if they have a chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma.

• The curve is flattening, but the job isn’t finished

“I’m very cautiously optimistic that we can handle what’s expected to be the kind of surge we’re anticipating to happen,” he said. “Right now, that surge is predicted to happen on May 3 based on some models that we have seen from the University of Washington. Social distancing is working.”

Anand added that it must continue, though.

“If every individual who gets infected stays home and does not infect other individuals, we’re actually going to be able to conquer this virus,” he said.

He emphasized that the next two to three weeks are going to be extremely important.

“It is going to be time well served to stay at home, avoid spreading this disease. Because if we don’t, it’s going to be measured in lives, not in the time that we saved,” he said. “The peak … is expected roughly May 3. It’s a moving target. I described it as hurricane projections and it changes from time to time. But it is looking like a much flatter curve.”

• It’s probably not going away

“There will likely be recurrences, even if we make it through this period in May,” he said. “There are going to be likely recurrences, so we at the health care systems in the area, we stand ready to help you.”

However, those systems, he said, are in a much better position than they were a month ago or two ago.

“We have better testing, we have personal protective equipment, our facilities and our resources in the medical community are in much better shape,” he said.

• Testing is also much improved

“What a difference two months makes,” he said. “When we first started this … we were very limited in our testing abilities.”

Those abilities have improved dramatically, he said.

“We’ve launched one of the rapid tests that can give you results back in about five minutes for our patients who are admitted to our hospital, which is a game-changer and really helping improve lives,” he said.

He apologized for the long turnaround times for earlier testing, but said the problems with commercial labs Quest and LabCorp have been resolved.

“The results were taking about 10 to 14 days, and now, today, due to some great work by those companies, the results are coming back in three to four days,” he said.

• They are making headway with treatments

“There are some treatments that we’ve had some great promise with,” he said. “Roughly about 5% of individuals who develop the coronavirus or COVID disease actually end up in the ICU, and we’ve had some dramatic improvement with some of the medications that are out there.”

• The next area to focus on is antibody testing

“We believe that there are individuals who have been infected with the COVID disease that are likely immune,” he said. “So as we become able to acquire that test and test for the antibodies, we are going to be able to identify which individuals are able to build up immunity and which ones are going to be safe to reenter society.”

Nonprofit blood center OneBlood, for instance, is actively collecting plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus so it can be transfused to people with life-threatening coronavirus infection in hopes of aiding their recovery.

Financial wellbeing

Anand may have eased some medical fears, but Crist and Irizarri, president of Wealth Transfer Consultants, sought to reassure residents and business owners about their financial health.

“As we go along, we’re already working on a fourth stimulus package,” Crist said. “And I’m sure it will continue to only expand. I was on a conference call today with my caucus, with Speaker Pelosi and the topic of discussion was largely about what we need to do to expand these benefits, get them out more rapidly to people.”

Irizarri said some of those benefits in the CARES Act, such as the Economic Injury Disaster and Paycheck Protection Program loans, were a fluid process but movement was being made.

“The majority of banks are waiting on clarity from the Treasury on how they are going to be reimbursed for the PPP loans,” he said. “Right now, the banks are having to put up their own collateral for the loans, so that is what’s causing the delay for the PPP loans. The good news and the light at the end of the tunnel is that I’m hearing reports that some of the EIDL loans … being processed, and a lot of those include that $10,000 advance grant to small businesses.”

Crist ended the conversation with a message of hope, citing the many Americans who are helping their neighbors in a time of need.

“Nobody is I think better suited to get through this thing than America,” he said. “After all, we’re the richest country in the world. Frankly, we’re the richest country in the history of the world. And the strongest country in the history of the world. You know, it’s not all about money, after all. I know resources are incredibly important, but it’s mind, body and soul. In a situation like this, we have to be guided by the better angels among us and that’s exactly what’s happening in the United States.”