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St. Clair, Mayo Clinic Team Up for Town Hall Meeting
By Lois Thomson

Several months have passed since COVID-19 burst into the world, but there are still almost as many questions as there are answers. With that in mind, and to help observe the fourth anniversary of St. Clair Hospital becoming a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, the two groups recently sponsored a free town hall Zoom meeting in Mt. Lebanon to answer questions by the community.

Participating on the panel, which was moderated by KDKA-TV Health and Medical Editor Maria Simbra, M.D., were: St. Clair physicians Stephen M. Colodny, M.D., Chief of Infectious Disease; John T. Sullivan, M.D., MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer; and Ruth Christoforetti, M.D., Family Medicine/Primary Care physician; as well as Mayo Clinic physicians Stacey Rizza, M.D., FIDSA, Executive Medical Director for International Academic Affairs; and Andrew D. Badley, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Molecular Medicine, Chair – Molecular Medicine.

The panel members first spoke about their general areas of expertise, then answered questions that had previously been submitted by the online attendees.

Dr. Sullivan pointed out that at the beginning of the pandemic, elective medical activities were curtailed. However, because there is still a fear of going to health care facilities, some people are delaying getting routine screenings, and that is a cause for alarm. Using mammograms as an example, Dr. Sullivan said the number has decreased by as much as one-third in this area (50 percent nationwide), and he is concerned that we will therefore see an increase in the number of deaths from breast cancer. "I implore everyone to think about their routine health care needs," he said, "and I want to reassure them that people are receiving (screenings) safely."

One attendee question asked if a person can contract the virus a second time. Dr. Badley said select individuals can get it again, but it's not known how common that is. As to why it happens, he said it could be the second virus is not the same as the first, or that the levels of immune response can wane over time.

The question of whether or not children should be attending schools in person has no right or wrong answer, according to Dr. Christoforetti. She said being with others increases the possibility of contracting the virus, although diligent cleaning and the chance for students to be outdoors helps. However, no situation offers "zero" possibility. Additionally, Dr. Colodny replied to a question that there is not much data yet as to whether the virus has a high transmission rate in schools because students have just started to go back. Further, Dr. Christoforetti mentioned the importance of monitoring mental health in both children and adults, saying that depression and anxiety are on the rise, and it's important to help and support each other, and seek professional care if needed.

Dr. Colodny also spoke up about the flu vaccine, urging everyone to get a shot. He said it will help health care professionals determine if symptoms may be related to the flu or the COVID virus, particularly if flu cases are prevalent in an area.
A question from an attendee asked that when a vaccine is developed, what is the chance that the virus could then mutate into something else. Dr. Rizza replied that nobody knows yet, and "we still need to find a vaccine that will work." She said it may be that people will need to get a yearly vaccine, as with the flu, or just one shot may be sufficient. "It's too early to know."

Dr. Rizza also answered a question about the effectiveness of steroids, saying patients who are severely ill and are on ventilators seem to benefit from steroids; but otherwise, there is no evidence that steroids help earlier cases, or help prevent the disease.

One question wanted to know if, once a vaccine is available, would it be better to get it right away, or wait to see if a subsequent one comes along that is better. Dr. Badley said it's hard to determine because more information will be available only after a vaccine is approved.

Another question was asked if there is data that shows long-term impacts of the virus. Dr. Sullivan replied that nobody knows for sure because we've only been into this for six months, but said in some patients it has severely weakened heart muscles.

The bottom line is that, after months of dealing with the virus, even the experts still don't have all the answers.

For more information, visit www.stclair.org

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