Bolinger: Immune system is ‘naïve’ when it comes to COVID-19

THATCHER — During an appearance on Voice of the Valley Thursday, Matt Bolinger, epidemiologist for the Health Departments of Graham and Greenlee counties, explained why the infection rate of COVID-19 appears to be so much greater than a typical flu virus.

“Most of us in this country, other than newborns, are going to have some antibody protections from most strains of flu. And that’s just not the case with this virus. With this virus, our population has a very naïve immune system,” he said.

To support that, he pointed to the current death toll from COVID-19, which is at 109,000 nationally as of Thursday, while the CDC reports 34,200 deaths from influenza in 2018-19.

Plus there’s the fact that the virus is hitting hardest those with underlying medical conditions and the elderly.

“Currently, in Graham County, we had a cluster in a very vulnerable population —two separate vulnerable populations — recently, and so our death rate is probably going to be higher than I would normally expect in the general population,” Bolinger said.

Graham County has experienced 39 positive cases and two deaths since the start of the pandemic, while Greenlee County has seen eight cases and one death.

Bolinger praised  Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for its preparation to handle an influx of cases, should that occur, and the best way to keep the hospital from being overloaded is to practice proper physical distancing, wearing a mask out of the home and proper hand washing.