MILWAUKEE — When Wisconsin needed a steady voice during the COVID-19 crisis, many found it in a man steeped in science and medicine.
"We are dealing with a 100-year pandemic," said Dr. John Raymond, "unlike anything since the Spanish flu pandemic."
Dr. Raymond leads the Medical College of Wisconsin and its 5,800 faculty and staff. As a practicing kidney disease specialist, he also helped us understand the nuances of COVID-19.
"COVID-19 is a disease that attacks blood vessels, brain and nervous system and other organs, as well the lungs, so it's not simply a respiratory virus."
Things we've learned and are still learning.
"As many as a third of patients who have survived COVID-19 have some form of chronic symptoms or disabilities from their infection," said Dr. Raymond, "and we are still learning a lot about that."
TMJ4's Charles Benson: "What worried you, what kept you up at night?"
Dr. Raymond: "I think the most worrisome part, from the healthcare perspective, was whether we would have such a huge surge of cases, that we would overwhelm the capacity of our healthcare systems to care of patients with COVID and people with other diseases."
A year ago, coronavirus cases were rising, and businesses were closing. The uncertainty added to the fear. Milwaukee even added a temporary healthcare facility at State Fair Park to handle a potential crush of COIVID-19 patients.
But for the most part, Wisconsin managed the pandemic during the spring and summer with case counts below the national average. All of that changed in the fall, when Wisconsin went from averaging 3,000 cases in mid-October to 7,000 cases in mid-November.
"We dodged a bullet here in Wisconsin," said Dr. Raymond. "In November, we were the epicenter for COVID-19 in the U.S. and the capacity of our healthcare systems was very taxed. We were just so fortunate that we reached the tipping point, but didn't tip over, unlike some of the other states."
But that doesn't mean the virus wasn't taking a toll. The daily death numbers were overwhelming for all of us, and front-line healthcare workers were living it every day.
"Burnout has always been a problem and a growing problem with healthcare professionals," said Dr. Raymond. "It's estimated between 30-50 percent of physicians and nurses feel burned out and unhappy with the profession, and that's only been added to by the stress and strain of COVID-19."
Dr. Raymond says the college added support systems to help stressed-out workers.
Despite all the obstacles and hardships in 2020, Dr. Raymond is optimistic that vaccines will get us on the other side of this pandemic.
Benson: "Are you confident we can reach herd immunity given the reluctance for some to get the vaccine?"
Dr. Raymond: "I'm confident we are sending a very consistent and clear message that the vaccines are safe and effective, they are our shot to getting on the other side of COVID-19."
Scientists say we reach herd immunity when 80 percent or more of the population is vaccinated. Right now 13 percent of Wisconsinites are fully vaccinated. That is just above the national level of 12 percent.