BOSTON – Dr. George Dangas spoke exclusively to The National Herald about COVID-19. He said that “we have entered the 2nd phase of the pandemic; the fall has started and viral infections are generally promoted by population density in closed spaces. As we recall, this started at the end of last winter, fiercely attacking New York and other densely populated areas. Then it was attenuated here, but passed towards the southern hemisphere in their fall and winter seasons and now it returns this way. Tough times in anticipation of a vaccine.”
Dr. Dangas is a prominent Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Surgery (Vascular) with tenure at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is Director of Cardiovascular Innovation at the Cardiovascular Institute of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and the Director of the Medical School Course Cardiology as well as Associate Director of the Mount Sinai Heart Department.
He thinks that “in comparison to the devastating 1st phase, the 2nd one appears somewhat attenuated thus far. Perhaps because the 1st phase was so rough, perhaps because the most vulnerable are no longer with us, perhaps because the viral storm has somehow become milder, perhaps we are more organized with improved therapeutic plans for in-hospital patients (typically, injectable drugs and special ventilation techniques) as well as for patients treated at home. Probably all of the above together!”
Dr. Dangas added that “I would like to highlight the initial positive results in the prevention of COVID-19 complications stemming from broad collaboration in Greece and also abroad. The use of a daily colchicine tablet appeared useful in early disease stages and a large Canadian study is ongoing right now. This is in line with the mechanism proposed by Oxford University for the benefits they saw with the use of dexamethazone in more advanced disease stages.
Asked if he foresees that the virus will mutate and become just another annual epidemic like the usual flu as we know it, he said “nobody can be sure, but we certainly hope so. For example, there are many seasonal non-flu viruses that begin as a common cold and then hit the heart more so than the flu, but we have generally found ways to take care of these problems despite the absence of vaccines. But the most vulnerable patients suffer a lot. We will see where Coronavirus ends up.”
Regarding the ending of the pandemic and if there is an algorithm to calculate the end, he said “there is no precise algorithm, but once many people get the virus, there will ultimately be immunity for 70-80% of the population and this will contain further spread. The timeframe for this herd immunity varies and obviously gets prolonged with more containment measures. But of course the next question will then be how long will the immunity last. If it is long-term, we are all set. But if it declines over few months, there will be a resurfacing of seasonal epidemics as with many other viruses; each with variable intensity, of course.”
In terms of vaccines, Dr. Gangas believes that “we are much closer than we were last March! We are in the completion phase of many trials from many companies in association with distinguished universities and I am sure we will have good results. However, we cannot rush the process or bend the rules, because the vaccines are for the general population and safety matters more than effectiveness. Anyhow, most vaccines do not prevent any disease 100%, but they attenuate its course so we can get over it in mild way and achieve immunity.”
Asked how the illness of President Trump influenced people he said, “first of all, I think it is analogous to the illness of the English Prime Minister: it made the people take this viral spread and disease much more seriously than before. Fevers, breathlessness requiring supplemental oxygen, plus 2-3 intravenous medications are not minor things! But of course everything could have evolved in a more aggressive way with prolonged hospitalization, intensive care unit etc. On the other hand, we saw that with timely and well-organized medical intervention a high-risk individual could get over the disease, leave the hospital rather quickly, and return to his job within a week or so. As I said earlier, this could not have been achieved during the initial phase last spring; but right now it obviously is a very feasible outcome.”
Dr. Dangas recommends to the Greek-American Community and to all people the following: “Pay great respect and attention to the preventive measures (masks, distance from others etc.), abstain from dense gatherings and especially dinner parties in closed spaces. Take special care with family members who are high risk due to advanced age or underlying chronic diseases. On the other hand, there is no need to panic. There are well-organized ways to tackle the viral illness early on (i.e. gargling with mouthwash solutions, vitamins, zinc-containing supplements, perhaps also famotidine or colchicine pills, as ongoing studies may show), and also in-hospital treatments with steroids like dexamethasone, antibodies, remdesivir, plasma, and others including blood thinners that are involved in trials.”
Regarding the way Orthodox Christians receive Holy Communion, Dr. Dangas said “this is an interesting question. I don’t really see any issue in the Greek-Orthodox Church of America, on the basis of the very thoughtful interview of our Archbishop and the very detailed analysis of Father Calivas, as I have read them on Goarch.org. They are very clear and I am glad they acknowledge that multiple individual spoons may be utilized. Also, I do not view this as a matter restricted to high-level theological analysis. The meaning of the scriptures and Holy Tradition is not an exclusivity of the Higher Clergy and Theological Authorities, but it should touch the common members of the Church and respond to their questions. As we all know, the scriptures exempt “sick people” from any fasting duty, thereby directly indicating the Church takes its responsibility seriously regarding special medical situations, and that should be the case even more regarding the matter of ways of delivering communion, as opposed to the theological issues surrounding Holy Communion itself – as Archbishop Elpidophoros very clearly describes in his interview. Practically speaking, utilizing a single spoon, or utilizing multiple individual spoons, or even using one spoon per person, which gives the greatest perception of safety, these practices certainly do not appear substantially different. Besides, I don’t even think there was a single spoon available at the original Holy Communion offered by Jesus himself. Let’s not dispute the spoons, and let’s overcome any local disagreements through a discussion and reconciliation of any differing opinions between the priests and the respective Parish Councils based on what they can read at the Archdiocese website. It is not wise to allow viral spreads in our communities (thereby inviting unpleasant interventions from state officials should a local epidemic arise), nor is it proper for doubt to interfere in anyone’s mind ahead of receiving Communion in relation to possible viral transmission that is greater when a single spoon is used for all people, and even greater if social distancing is not maintained.”