Doctor: The frontline is people doing their part

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Emergency Physician Stephen Sample sets up a webcam system before his video interview on MSNBC at his home in Jasper in early April. Dr. Sample has been interviewed multiple times on MSNBC about COVID-19 in Dubois County.


JASPER — Dr. Stephen Sample is trying.

Since COVID-19 began spreading earlier this year, the Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center emergency physician has tapped his experience to answer questions and share information with Facebook commenters and through guest spots on cable news shows like “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” and “MSNBC Live with Katy Tur.”

When speaking about his home county in a Thursday phone interview, he said it’s “still not awful here. But the trend is troubling.”

“Just in general, it’s no secret that our [COVID-19] numbers in Dubois County are clearly on the rise,” Sample said, later adding that, “for certain, we’re seeing more people hospitalized, more people in the emergency department with symptoms, all at the same times that our volumes have come back at the hospital.”

Last week, The Herald reported that Dubois County was No. 1 in the state for the number of cases per capita detected as positive in the past seven days, making the county a hot spot for the virus.

“I think that just comes back to fairly poor behavior locally, over the last month,” Sample said when speaking of the spike in confirmed cases. “Or really, you could say, since the beginning, but our case numbers were so low that our doubling time for the disease was really low. So, it just takes a while to make itself evident.”

Those numbers might not come down any time soon. Sample has heard of people who have recently been to weddings with more than 250 people — with no mask requirements — and he’s also aware of graduation parties that took place last weekend.

“What the problem is, is we won’t really know how those things play out for probably four to six weeks, either,” he explained. “And it’s going to be so hard, by the time we really see a bump based on that, people are going to be so distant from it that they’re not going to make the connection mentally.”

He broke this down by saying that if a carrier transmitted the virus to a few people at a gathering, it takes between two days and two weeks for them to begin showing symptoms. Those people could in turn transmit the virus to more people, who would then begin showing symptoms later on, too.

When asked if he thought Dubois County’s numbers would spike to the levels they have reached, Sample explained that it was inevitable due to the combination of COVID-19’s communicable nature and a collective underestimating of the virus.

“It’s human nature when you watch things happen to other people to feel like, ‘Yeah, but that probably won’t happen to you,’” Sample said. “And it just turns around and smacks you in the face. It is our nature to think that it can’t happen to us.”

In a followup message, Sample said that “if we don’t come together as a community and do what we know works, that with school starting back soon, we haven’t seen anything yet. We need full buy in on this.”

He noted that what’s happening in Dubois County now is not a second wave, but the beginning of the crest of the first one. He voiced support for the statewide mask mandate. While national news media has labeled health care providers, police officers and first responders as the frontline against the illness, he believes that title really belongs to another group.

“We’re the backup,” he said. “The frontline is actually just each individual American doing their part to do the best for us.”

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