Dr. Mabel Bodell, left, and Simon Mendoza, bottom, talk with World reporter Oscar Rodriguez about the rising COVID-19 cases in Wenatchee and how to keep safe, Nov. 13 during a virtual bilingual forum.

WENATCHEE — With an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases being reported across the state, we reached out to two health care experts to talk about the seriousness of the situation and for some advice on how to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Dr. Mabel Bodell, nephrologist and member of the Health Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion council at Confluence Health, is one of the panelists.

The other is Simon Mendoza, a physician's assistant at Columbia Valley Community Health. Here's an edited version of the conversation which is part of a series of bilingual forums on COVID-19 sponsored by The Wenatchee World and Our Valley Our Future.

Wenatchee World: Tell me a little bit about your experience with COVID-19.

Dr. Mabel Bodell: I went to Argentina at the end of February to visit my parents. I was away from the country for almost 20 days. And when I returned on March 15, this was a different country. We kidney doctors saw the peak of the pandemic a little bit later. Unfortunately, patients who were extremely sick from COVID-19 pneumonia that end up in the intensive care unit they also end up sometimes with multiple organ failures. And unfortunately, the kidneys were also an organ that failed. Sometimes we’ve seen patients that after one month of fighting to stay alive they end up with kidney failure. And unfortunately, quite a high percentage of these patients, more than half, they die. Me personally, I’ve seen too many patients die at our hospital during the peak of the pandemic.

WW: There’s been a dramatic increase in cases at various levels, why is this happening?

Simon Mendoza: It’s a multi-factorial reason. The main reason is the colder weather, people congregating indoors especially without masks on. That’s one of the risks when you have multiple households congregating together without masks. That’s kind of like the perfect storm. And what’s really concerning is with the upcoming holidays that increases that risk significantly. I also think people definitely have pandemic-fatigue. I have it myself but we cannot relax. This is not the time to relax.

WW: Hospitalizations have been going up. Dr. Bodell have you seen this firsthand?

Bodell: Yes, in the prior first and second waves, we did struggle to take care of all the patients. The thing that helped us was that not every area in our region got hit at the same time. We received patients from, for example, Yakima early on in the pandemic, back in March. We took care of them because we did have space at that time. But then, at some point, we were unable to take care of everybody over here. And some of our community members ended up somewhere else. That was really, really hard. And that’s the thing we’re really worried about this time because we’re seeing an increase of cases everywhere. So, what is going to happen if we’re busy, and the other hospitals are busy too, who is going to take care of our patients?

WW: What would you tell people that might say, ‘Why should I care about this, what’s so serious about it?’

Bodell: It’s extremely hard to tell people what the patients at the hospital with COVID-19 pneumonia are going through. The sickest of the sickest not only may die, but the ones that survive they do have a lot of long-term problems. Some of our patients were admitted one month, two months, even almost three months at the hospital. And after that they have to go to a rehab center for months after that. And some of them are not recovering completely, so we’re seeing really devastating, long-term effects from all of this. We try to tell everybody that despite the fact that a huge percentage of people will have very minor symptoms, the patients that get sick and end up in the hospitals, they could die from this or have very long-term effects. That’s the reason why really everybody needs to take care of this.

Mendoza: I think we all should care as patriots and fellow Americans. We have to protect one another. Even if you’re young and healthy, you can bring it to grandma, somebody else that you love, or other people in our community. We really, really have to remember that we’re all in this together and that we will get through this. But we all have to do our part.

WW: Then, do we need to skip Thanksgiving and Christmas this year?

Mendoza: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I know it is heartbreaking. It is very difficult to not be able to see family when you’ve been away for almost a year since the pandemic started. But it is not the time to let our guard down. There’s a vaccine on the way that shows promising results. If you can stay just within your household that is the preferred way to gather for Thanksgiving. You can Facetime or Zoom other family members. But if we buckle down and get through this, we can celebrate Thanksgiving next year with our family members and loved ones without risking one of them being gone to COVID.

WW: There are promising results from recent COVID-19 vaccine trials in the news. If the vaccine is so close, why the need for restrictions?

Mendoza: Because we’re not going to get any kind of broad protections until we have the vaccine for most people. What they call "herd immunity," it’s usually when a majority of the population has been protected either from natural immunity after getting the infection or after a vaccine. And even though it [Pfizer vaccine] has shown 95% efficacy, we don’t know how long that’s going last. So, very early data. We should be cautiously optimistic. We just don’t know how long that protection will last.

Bodell: I’m one of the volunteers on the Pfizer trial, so I was definitely very excited about the news. But as you said, things are moving extremely fast. Faster than ever in the history of vaccine development. But we still need to follow absolutely all the steps to make sure that this vaccine is going to be safe and effective.

WW: This is the million-dollar question. How much longer before things can go back to normal?

Mendoza: If I had to guess, I would say we would start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel maybe by next summer if the vaccine continues and is approved in the final stages. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to let all our guards down. We’re going to be in a new reality. COVID is going to be with us even if we have a vaccine. I was just thinking to myself the other day about how I want to wear a mask every flu season even if we get COVID under control. That’s my new normal.

WW: What would you say to people who distrust what health officials might say?

Bodell: Please, the coronavirus exists. The coronavirus is in our community. It’s making our community sick, and our friends, neighbors, family members are dying from this. So, you may not have been affected or anybody you know has been affected but that doesn’t mean this isn’t happening. I implore you to please, please just follow the guidelines from a trusted source like the CDC or health district. I understand the mistrust. The information evolved so much from the very beginning, but this is a new virus. We are still learning. This is all really new for us. But we also know by now the things that truly work. That’s the reason why you should definitely, definitely wear a mask, continue with the social distancing, and continue with the hand washing because these things work.

Mendoza: I would just add, Dr. Bodell and I took an oath to protect our patients. We have no motivation or incentive to lie to anybody. We are following the science. Early on, there wasn’t enough known about the virus to start recommending masks. That’s what a lot of people allude to when they start talking about the mistrust. Obviously, that has evolved as we learned more, and that’s just science. The more we learn, the more we can give specific recommendations on it. I would beg everyone in the community to please have more sympathy and empathy even if you’ve not been personally affected by it. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the country and around the world that have lost a loved one. There’s going to be a lot of empty seats on Thanksgiving and the holidays from the deaths we’ve already seen. So, I beg everyone to buckle down and continue to follow these precautions.

WW: Any additional advice to help protect our families and community?

Bodell: Spread the word. Keep the conversation open. Reach out to friends, family, and people that you may know, and they may not be following all the guidelines. Just start a conversation. That would be the only way to really change the perception that some members of the community have.

Mendoza: I would just add general guidelines to improve your immunity and health in general. Regular exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, drinking plenty of water. Talk to your medical provider if you’d benefit from a vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter.

WW: Does vaccination against the flu have any special significance this year?

Bodell: This wintertime, more than ever, we really need to be vaccinated against the flu. We really don’t know what is going to happen with these two viruses, coronavirus and the influenza, when they collide. We’re really concerned that people will have more complications with the combination of these two infections together. It’s not too late yet. We still have opportunities to get free flu shots. They’re still some local pharmacies that are still offering that.

Mendoza: Yeah, more important than ever. I think there’s already been reports of patients getting the dual infection, COVID and influenza. And that just adds another layer of complexity and risk. This is now, more than ever, the most important time to get your flu vaccine.

Oscar Rodriguez: 665-1179