ER doc: Swift action of nursing homes saved lives

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.


As the total number of COVID-19 cases slowly creeps higher in Dubois County, an emergency room physician detailed how, locally, the virus has largely missed a demographic that it is known to hit hard.

Dr. Stephen Sample — who works at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper and is also the Dubois County Emergency Services medical director — said that from an absolute numbers standpoint, he feels like we’re “doing pretty good.”

While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases did spike with the outbreak at the Farbest Foods plant in Huntingburg, “we’ve been real lucky in this county,” Sample said.

“I think the one thing that has stood out in our county numbers, so far, is that something like 80% of our cases that we have had have been in under 60s,” the doctor said of the ages of people that have tested positive. “Which is fantastic. If you look at some of the numbers of some of the surrounding counties, and all through Indiana with significantly more deaths, you start seeing a lot more cases over 60. And those are the ones that are always going to be the most at risk of this thing.”

He doesn’t believe this is by chance. Coupled with how rural Dubois County is, Sample attributed the fact that most of the county’s cases are in younger people to the swift action nursing homes took to lock down and prevent the spread.

“People were mad at first,” he said, “but I think it saved a ton of lives, probably, around here.”

Still, that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Though he doesn’t get out much, Sample has noticed the attitude of online commenters who are not following health guidelines.

“I feel like in America in general, and in places that aren’t seeing spikes, that we have just decided that this is over,” Sample said. “And that we’re not doing coronavirus anymore. That’s what it feels like.”

He is irritated that mask-wearing has been politicized, saying those who don’t wear the protective covers “are being willfully obstinate. It’s a willful statement to say, ‘I’m not going to do this.’”

The overwhelming consensus of physicians and health care providers is that masks should be worn and social distancing should be practiced, he said, adding that “it’s not controversial in the medical community.”

He later said that arguments suggesting the coverings decrease oxygen, reactivate the virus or cause more bacterial growth and fungal pneumonia are “all directly counter to the truth.” The same goes for the claim that masks present a danger due to carbon dioxide re-breathing.

Donning a mask in public isn’t done to protect the wearer from illness, he explained. It’s worn to protect others from the wearer, in case that person is asymptomatically spreading COVID-19.

“Even if all the experts were wrong and this didn’t help at all ... the worst-case scenario is that you are inconveniencing yourself for a short period of time,” he said. “You’re making yourself a little uncomfortable in an effort to show your community that you care enough to not make them sick, or to do whatever you can.”

He continued: “Because that’s all civilians can really do, right? I mean the only thing you can really do as a regular citizen of the world to show your community that you care about them is to do your best to keep your distance and to put a mask over your face when you can’t distance.”

Not doing this, he said, sends the message that “your convenience is more important than their health, to you.”

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