Q&A with the Doc: Masks still key to reduce spread of virus

Wearing a mask every day, inside and outside, for the foreseeable future is a struggle for many people to accept, especially in Lycoming County where cases have been relatively low and nursing homes have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

But a rise in cases among younger people is cause for concern, according to Dr. Rutul Dalal, of UPMC Susquehanna, and he urges the public to “be diligent.” 

“Live your life — you have to. But at the same time just be cognizant. Don’t be selfish,” Dalal said. “Even If you are healthy, even if you are young, that doesn’t mean it is only about you. You have to look out for the vulnerable population. A small sacrifice right now will go a long way to trying to stem the flow of this virus.” 

Since cases of the novel coronavirus began cropping up in the northcentral Pennsylvania region in March and April, Dalal has spent six to eight hours a day researching the virus, working with patients and helping to educate the public. Eager to present his findings as purely the result of medical science, Dalal is hesitant to bring political opinion into his recommendations. 

The science is clear, he said. Wearing a mask decreases the likelihood of an individual transmitting the virus and others receiving it. 

But mortality rates of the virus are decreasing, so how important is wearing a mask? Dalal answered these and what he said are other misconceptions about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic during a recent interview with On the PULSE: 

Q. Have COVID-19 cases increased recently due to the reopening of many businesses and the July 4th weeknd? 

A. Numbers do vary up and down. One hundred-one cases were from Jersey Shore Manor Care. This past weekend, the trends have been a little worrying. In our own testing center, we had a lot more positives. … the age group varied from age 11 to the 50s and the average age was in the mid 30s. People are now in the midst of summer and they have this built-up energy they want to release. People have sometimes forgotten that we are still in the midst of a pandemic and going green doesn’t mean that the virus and the threat is over. 

Q. What precautions should people continue to practice? 

A. I would say that social distancing, hand hygiene and masking is the way to go. Typically when someone gets diagnosed with the COVID-19 infection, by day eight or nine they can get sick enough to go into the hospital. So right now in Lycoming County, we have no in-patient cases, but we will only know that by mid week next week whether these positives turn into a situation where they have to come into the hospital. 

Q. Should individuals wear a mask when they are outside? 

A. The likelihood of someone getting the virus is higher inside than outside. There is a lot of dilution with the atmospheric elements such as pressure, wind waves and more. It all depends on a lot of other factors such as wind direction. There is always a chance that in spite of being in close proximity or even maintaining social distance you can still propagate the virus. So the thought process came in that you should be wearing a mask. 

Now, based on previous experience, even if you tell people to wear a mask, even the best case scenario only 80% will wear the mask. All those things are factored into these types of advisories. It’s just a way to remind people that the pandemic is still here; it will probably be here for the next few months. Sometimes calamities and disasters have short-term memories in people’s minds. 

Q. The mortality rate for COVID-19 deaths is 4%. What does this mean for the severity of the disease? 

A. People who are getting COVID-19 are younger and this is a disturbing trend. Even though the mortality remains low, people are dying. This means that you are harboring the virus and you may give it to the population at risk. Even though the mortality is low it doesn’t mean the virus is gone. That still means that these guys are potential carriers of the virus. 

Q. How does the coronavirus compare to a virus like the flu? We don’t mask ourselves to prevent the spread of the flu, so why is that different for COVID-19? 

A. First, the biggest difference is that this is not a seasonal virus. Flu has a season. We are in the midst of summer in the 90-degree heat. Second, it is easier for this virus to transfer from one individual to another. And third, this virus has very odd presentations. It can cause blood clots, diarrhea, it can affect the GI or respiratory system; it can affect everything. The myriad of symptoms are very large. Lastly, we don’t know much about the way this virus transfers. We know it can be droplets, airborne in certain conditions, surfaces, but that doesn’t mean we know everything about the virus. 

But, most importantly, flu has a vaccine. 

Q. What could a fall surge of the coronavirus look like? 

A.  I might be wrong, but I think we aren’t even out of the first surge. We are still in the middle of one and it’s undulating up and down. We have not even controlled the initial surge that happened. 

But yes, there are many things that can be done to prevent this from again causing a lot of issues that we suffered in the spring months. Once we do develop a control and flatten the curve by putting these restrictions in place, rather than completely shutting down everything, that is a safe alternative. 

Q. Many people think that the virus is going away, as we don’t see as many cases here and the ones we do see that the positive cases aren’t as serious. Should people in Lycoming County still be concerned? 

A. Complacency is very dangerous, especially when dealing with medical science. One person has the propensity to transfer it to five other people. It just takes one bad weekend, with people congregating together. People will get lively and begin talking and laughing loudly. Just imagine them transferring the virus among themselves and that same person going back to work, back home, perhaps elderly parents. Until a durable vaccine is available or the population has developed herd immunity to it, it will be very difficult to ascertain whether you are completely out of the woods. 

Q. Many people say they would like to get the virus so that they can then become immune and won’t have to worry about it anymore. Is that wise? 

A. The funny part of this is, No. 1 it can be extremely dangerous because people do die. Secondly, you don’t know how long the immunity will last. Studies have shown, to develop that kind of immunity the person has to be super sick, he has to be in the hospital and on life-saving medications. Only then can you develop a robust immunity to it. If me or you got the virus, we are asymptomatic and it went away, there is no guarantee you would be immune, because you were not sick enough to develop that kind of antibody response. The virus has also mutated, so becoming immune to one strain may not make you immune to the mutation. 


  • Anne Reiner

    Anne Reiner has been a journalist for over eight years. She lives in Lycoming County and founded On the PULSE to create a new and engaging way to bring local news to the region of Northcentral, Pennsylvania.

Anne Reiner

Anne Reiner has been a journalist for over eight years. She lives in Lycoming County and founded On the PULSE to create a new and engaging way to bring local news to the region of Northcentral, Pennsylvania.

1 Comment
  1. Thank you, Ms. Reiner, for getting this information out to the public, particularly in Lycoming County. I have been a strong proponent for masking, distancing, and personal hygiene for months. My advocacy for these measures has also been based on extensive investigation of the latest medical science. Dr. Dahal repeats recommendations supported by the WHO, CDC, as well as numerous sound medical authorities.

    On a personal level, I pray church congregations practice these precautions consistently in order to protect the more vulnerable members of their community, and thus allowing those individuals to fully participate in the life of the church during this prolonged pandemic. Sadly, inadequate measures for disease mitigation has marginalized vulnerable individuals who agree with Dr. Dalal, while placating members who wish to turn this health crisis into a political issue or a matter of personal choice.

    On behalf of our community, I thank you for educating the public on this issue.