Dr. Russell Bedsole believes the key to saving lives from COVID-19 is education.
What began as a thoughtful reaction to news of the global pandemic quickly turned into a public-awareness campaign the Dothan internist delivers with a weekly vlog.
“When all this broke just a few weeks ago, … when the president declared a national emergency, we realized for our own patients that this is something we need to keep them informed about,” Bedsole said when asked what inspired him to start the videos.
His first video of the series was a private message to his friends and family in which he synthesized data from scouring the internet about the mysterious illness, explaining what it means for them and why they should take it seriously. Someone posted his video to Facebook, where it received widespread attention.
Bedsole realized an immediate need for people, particularly high-risk individuals, to stay abreast of the constantly changing guidelines and new information as the crisis evolves to make positive decisions regarding their health. Bedsole decided he would fill that need for Internal Medicine Associates of Dothan patients and the community.
“I think locally, education is the most important thing,” he said. “The peak here in Alabama will be probably the weekend after Easter. If we can educate the community about why social distancing is critical, perhaps we can prevent a surge of patients coming into the ERs and overwhelming the local hospitals.”
Bedsole, who graduated from medical school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and has been with Flowers Medical Group-Internal Medicine Associates of Dothan for almost 11 years, discusses the latest coronavirus updates with Facebook Live videos twice weekly using his personal account — dispelling rumors, providing insight and giving advice.
“It seems to be really popular,” Bedsole said. “We’ve gotten really positive feedback. I’ve gotten a lot of friend requests.”
Each video has received more than 2,000 views, and the comment sections are filled with hundreds of remarks of gratitude and questions.
Bedsole addresses questions such as whether people should continue taking their blood pressure medications, if different blood types are more susceptible, and if they should wash their groceries.
“My hope is to really facilitate a discussion and encourage, you know, we’re all sort of in this together,” he said. “If we all continue thinking and learning, I think we’ll all come to a better understanding.”
Though Bedsole stresses he is not an infectious disease expert, he started his career in internal medicine 20 years ago and has taught clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati. If there is a question on a subject he isn’t familiar with, he consults his colleagues and studies expert opinions.
He researches COVID-19-related information daily, drawing from reputable sources such as the Mayo Clinic’s daily podcast; statistics and recommendations from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force news conferences; and available studies from the journal Annals of Internal Medicine and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model.
His research journey has led him to new understanding.
“I didn’t realize the epidemiological impact of social distancing. I hadn’t heard about it much before,” Bedsole said. “What I’ve learned is trying to limit the spread initially is key because although it may not lessen overall cases, it decreases that peak of people who need to be hospitalized at the same time, which could consume the number of (intensive care unit) beds a hospital has available. When that happens, someone who has a heart attack or stroke may not have access to treatment.”
Herd immunity, where everyone is exposed to an illness by infection or vaccine, is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of people have immunity.
In this case, where there is no vaccine and testing is not widespread enough to limit contact to vulnerable individuals, trying to build herd immunity could cause unnecessary suffering and death, Bedsole said.
As of Tuesday, there were 39 million estimated flu cases in the United States that were linked to roughly 24,000 deaths. In contrast, there have been 427,460 identified COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since its arrival in January. There have been 14,696 deaths.
Bedsole said social distancing in Alabama is more important than ever over the next few days as the infection rate spikes. According to models he has studied, Alabama will peak in number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations around April 20.
“Over the next few days especially, please listen to the experts,” he urged. “Wear masks when going to the grocery store, sending one person from the household at a time, not lingering, not mingling, watching out for elderly parents — making sure they have no symptoms, especially fever and shortness of breath.”
In hospitals, an N95 mask is best, but cloth masks can be useful for the public, although they are not foolproof in protecting from infections from respiratory droplets, Bedsole said.
“It may help protect you from someone coughing on you a little bit, but it also may help you as a person remember to not touch your face,” he said.
Problems to come
Like many doctors and scientists, Bedsole predicts that another surge later in the year is likely. He believes testing is another key in mitigating the virus’s impact.
“I think we need to test health-care providers, nursing homes, first responders — anyone who’s at a higher risk,” Bedsole said. “If we can get the testing, my opinion would be to blanket the whole area to see who’s had it and who hasn’t so we can really target our efforts.”
Two point-of-care tests are being produced; one will test for active infection while the second would test a person’s antibodies to see if they’ve been exposed to the virus.