Dr. Michelle Kitson and Dr. Stanley Dowell are internal medicine specialists with the Methodist Medical Group. (Courtesy photo)

Most of Dr. Stanley Dowell’s patients are over 50 and nearly all prime candidates for suffering serious complications if coronavirus strikes. Faced with no cure and only experimental treatment of the novel disease, Dowell has his own action plan: systematic management of each symptom.

“Of course, the first plan of action is for our patients to stay home,” he said. “Then, if coronavirus is somehow contracted, the patient is supported through the disease. What I mean by that is whatever system is failing, I would treat the effects of that deficiency until the viral syndrome has passed. Then we can pull back.

“Let’s suppose the virus is causing difficulty in breathing, some degree of acute respiratory distress syndrome, then that patient would be put on a ventilator to support breathing,” he said. “If the heart function goes down, we prescribe meds that help the heart beat stronger.”

Dowell’s plan of action models care being dispensed by many physicians in various parts of the country. Doctors and patients, together, are fighting back.

“People are trying to adjust to the new norm,” Dowell said. “The way life is right now – there have been a lot of changes. There are lots of ads regarding the coronavirus on television that targets seniors. A higher mortality rate and a higher number of complications from the virus are expected in that demographic. People come in and say, ‘Doc, they are talking about me.’ First things first, I try to calm their fears.”

For nearly a month now, Dowell has been calming fears and reassuring his patients that just because they are more vulnerable to coronavirus than other age groups, it doesn’t have to be fatal.

“The first thing my patients are doing is taking the stay-at-home order seriously. They are calling their families to say, ‘Look, I’m going to be home, and I’m not coming out. If I need something, I will call and let you know. But I don’t need a whole lot of people visiting. I’m alright.’ The isolation is an unfortunate by-product of sheltering in place for many seniors. It’s a trade-off.”

Most of his patients are taking the threat of infection seriously,” said Dowell.

“Once we get the fear and panic under control, common-sense measures can mitigate exposure and the complications which may follow. Frequent and thorough hand-washing, staying at home, and using social distancing, if they just have to go out, will keep everyone safe.”

One 80-year-old patient lost a life-long friend, and the family asked him to speak at the funeral, according to Dowell.

“I stepped in to say that under doctor’s orders, he (the patient) would not be able to attend. It was a tough call, but the risk was too great. They grew up together, went to school together. But, I have to take each individual’s vulnerability very seriously,” Dowell said. “In a crowd, older people are more likely to catch the virus. It’s just not safe right now.”

As of April 2, Tennessee had confirmed 2,845 cases statewide, with 32 deaths. In Shelby County, there were 640 confirmed cases, with eight fatalities.

Among some of the more higher-risk individuals is the group of seniors over 60 and who have recently traveled

“Now that we are testing everybody, a higher number of young people will test positive Dowell projects. “I think moving forward, positive cases confirmed out of all the testing will remain at something like nine percent. Our death rate is still quite low. We have people walking out of quarantine without complications, or any life-threatening conditions. Overall, Memphis and Shelby County have been blessed beyond measure.”

There is one very important thing the public should remember, Dowell said. People who have COVID-19 and have no symptoms can still transmit the virus to others.

“Although there may be no sneezing or coughing, respiratory droplets could still become airborne when they are talking, or even just breathing,” Dowell said.

“Staying at home and being mindful of social distancing at all times will help keep Memphis and Shelby County safe and healthy. Everyone, even young, healthy people, must take these precautions seriously.”