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Is the Island Safe? An Open Letter from the Clinic

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The pandemic has created a very difficult and stressful year for us all, especially those of us in healthcare on the front lines. I believe politics should have no part in healthcare, yet the political manipulation and misinformation during the pandemic has hurt many and obstructed the science-driven guidance that physicians have tried to provide.

The rapid evolution of information and changes along the way have led many to doubt medical recommendations, but we continue to read the daily flow of information from around the world as the pandemic evolves and pass on the best medical science as it develops. It seems that everyone who reads an article about COVID-19 or a new treatment is an expert, and I gently remind my patients that just because I read an article about their unusual disease does not make me an expert, but rather simply more fluent and ready to learn more through discussion and guidance from trusted experts in the field. 

As a clinic, we continue to serve our mission and have been creative by donning protective gear and caring for unvaccinated and those sick with COVID-19 outside to avoid infection of our staff and other patients. We continue to balance the respect of individual rights and freedoms against the general health of our community and reluctantly accept that it will either be too restrictive or not enough for some. Hopefully we are forgiven for caring.

I have had many questions regarding guidance for events, and recent concerns voiced by board members who have noticed event plans that do not follow recommendations of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). I have reached out personally to many of our Island groups and also answered questions through the 411 Island Community Coalition. The Clinic continues to follow CDC guidelines and the best science as it evolves.

I recognize that folks want to go back to normal and want to find creative ways to resume activities. I have been very clear that unfortunately there is NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS for the creative approach of attempting to test and screen patients for social events, and this is not a substitute for masking and social distancing recommendations. If Island groups want to try creative screening to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission that is THEIR decision and I respect their right to do so. Clinic recommendations are on our website and we follow the CDC guidelines.

Educated with this knowledge, we must each decide how risk averse we are. We all assume some risk when we go out in public, but I do not recommend sitting with a large group of people unmasked and indoors for a prolonged period of time. The screening policies that many performing art centers are using are creative, but NOT scientific. COVID-19 is not over, but thankfully cases are decreasing, and the laxity is likely to create a winter surge of both COVID-19 and the flu. Ultimately, each group and each individual must assess their personal risk and the risk of attending an event and make a personal decision.

I also have had questions this week about treatment options for COVID-19 patients. I would like you all to know that we have been on the leading edge of arranging monoclonal therapy for our patients as it has evolved. The Clinic physicians have spent a huge amount of time working with Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) infectious disease specialists about convalescent serum, Remdesivir, and Remeron therapy for our patients when COVID-19 first began. We’ve also arranged outpatient therapy through SMH for Remeron when it first became available as outpatient infusions, then Venice opened up as well.

I think we have had a big impact by moving early to get our patients treated, not waiting for them to get worse. We continue to provide 15-minute COVID-19 antigenic testing and have helped patients get in the same day at Tringali Center in Englewood and started using their outpatient monoclonal program as soon as it opened. We assist patients with online sign up when needed and continue to call and follow up on ALL of our COVID-19 positive patients daily. We keep a spreadsheet log of their progress and symptoms and help them isolate and manage at home and remain ready to arrange hospitalization if needed. We talk with the hospitalists and specialists to keep tabs on our patients in the hospital. We considered delivering monoclonal therapy at the Clinic, but we all agreed there was not an unmet need. Oral monoclonal therapy with about a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization is on its way from Merck, and we will keep you posted as information evolves. 

It has been a very difficult pandemic for all, and please know that we continue to work diligently behind the scenes to try and find a balance between recommendations for safe behaviors while trying not to make anyone feel we are trampling their right to choose how they behave. I hope you will encourage folks to follow reliable information from the CDC and the World Health Organization and not get their medical information from non-medical sources. I am often asked “Is the Island safe?” and I reply, “Safer than most, where else would you rather be during a pandemic?”  Stay safe, get your flu shot and welcome back to the Island. 

Thanks all for your trust in us and support.

About the Author

Dr. James joined the Clinic in March 2018 and serves as Medical Director of the Clinic. A graduate of Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, he completed his residency at Metropolitan Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is board certified in emergency medicine and has been awarded fellowship status by the American College of […]

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