Covid-19: From a physician’s point of view

Book title: Covid-19 — A U.S. Physician’s Take On Exaggerated Fear of Coronavirus

By Emmanuel Koro

I came across the Covid-19 book when a friend sent it to me as an example of how politics have become completely entwined with public health matters in the United States.

It was of interest to me in order to compare the politics behind the management of the Covid-19 pandemic on the African continent and what is happening in the U.S.

The author of the book is a U.S. citizen and medical doctor, Jeffrey I. Barke. He is certainly not scared of expressing controversial views that are protected by America’s longstanding tradition of freedom of speech.

When I was doing graduate studies in science/environmental communication at the University of Maryland in 1999, I learnt that there will always be different ways of handling scientific topics. Barke’s book confirms that. It also supports the idea that medical doctors such as Barke have to calibrate the public interest of living in a real world of risk, danger, and opportunity with fundamental questions of a patient’s health and safety. How to manage the danger of Covid-19 involves all of these issues. Barke believes that the U.S. government and many scientists and medical doctors being interviewed on television are being overly cautious in how the coronavirus should be dealt with.

Could these opining scientists and doctors be only interested in being at the centre of attention and enjoying their new status as “experts” more than they like being totally honest in interpreting the Covid-19 data before their eyes? While Barke does not directly challenge these scientists and doctors, he does present a completely different interpretation of the positions they take. This makes the book and Barke controversial and has caused some to label him “a potential threat to humanity”.

For example, Barke does not hesitate to question the silence of other medical professionals over the need to have people build their natural immune systems as a defence against the coronavirus.

And he spends a good number of pages of his book questioning the effectiveness of facemasks as a protection against the spread of Covid-19. Barke is no fringe or extremist scientist as he agrees with the World Health Organisation, other medical doctors and scientists worldwide that Covid-19 is mostly carried in droplets of mucus or spittle and any face covering will help control that. He says: “A sneeze or cough containing Covid-19 may be partially blocked by a mask or bandana. [However,] the science is inconclusive on the extent to which a sneeze or cough can get through these protective coverings.” He then makes this highly telling point: “A 0.12 micron Covid-19 virus particle will pass through an ordinary surgical mask easily as well as any homemade [face-covering] cloth product. It is the equivalent of erecting a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes.”

As I continued to read his book close to midnight, I could not stop and go to bed. Then I became totally awake, when I got to the point where he makes a scary revelation of the negative impact of masks when one is sweating, “As moisture builds up inside a face covering, its filtering ability drops precipitously.”
In a typical science communication approach, Barke uses graphics that demonstrate the porousness of the Covid-19 protective facemasks. This makes the protections that masks provide dubious. I am a die-hard mask-wearing African. I love my dear life and my family and said to myself, “I will continue with facemask wearing because I like the psychological and physical sense of protection it gives me.”

But I felt like I had made a major discovery about the limits of the protectiveness of a facemask against Covid-19. It is one of several revelations by Barke in his book that are worth considering. They are also worth sharing. But my wife and children had long retired to bed. Then I grabbed my pen and started highlighting the key points in the book with the intention of talking about Barke’s Covid-19 revelations with a broader audience through a book review.
The book took me through different mood swings. “So could the masks be controversially performing a function similar to a placebo that doctors give to a patient who is pretending to be ill just to make her or him feel that they are protected?” I wondered.

Then I got a greater need to continue mask-wearing when I read the part where Barke actually supports mask-wearing — not to stop the virus being spread by air but to prevent aerosol transmission of the disease from sneezing and coughing, etc.

“After all Barke might not be totally against mask-wearing,” I concluded. “He is just playing the role of a scientist and a medical doctor to tell the truth. Then I thought Barke’s findings might make him unpopular with politicians and businesspeople who for political and economic reasons might think that he is de-marketing mask-wearing, making them lose votes or money. But Barke could also become popular if the public finds out through his book that he actually wants people to be given access to cheaper and successful Covid-19 treatment options should they get infected with the deadly Coronavirus.

The reference he makes to social distancing — comparing the distances recommended in Africa and the U.S. — makes interesting reading. “. . . if I’m six feet (1,82 metres) away from another person, am I safe?” he asks. Then adds tellingly: “There is zero science behind six feet of separation. The Europeans and Africans maintain a metre (about three feet) of separation. But why not four feet or eight feet? Because six feet was thought to be an easily remembered and calibrated number.” But remember there is “zero science” for any amount of social distancing that we have been led to believe is an untouchable element of the defence against the coronavirus. Remembering is key to any public and science communication to ensure that the message gets through and sticks. Africans and Europeans have never forgotten to maintain the metre, because the alliterative slogan is catchy and memorable.

As a journalist, I felt collectively guilty when I read the part where Barke pointedly questions the silence of the media over cheaper Covid-19 treatment options, especially the unpublished 100% success record of a Texas-based medical doctor. “Could we have similar but successful unpublished Covid-19 treatments in Africa?” I wondered, as I paged through this interesting short book.

My overall view is that Barke presents a calming approach to an over-panicked global reaction towards managing or containing the coronavirus that it knows little about and must learn more about to save human lives.

Ironically, the reactions by virologists, politicians, scientists and doctors have made them ignore the reality that we should allow for the building up of our natural immune system. If not, we could, as Barke suggests, end up facing the same vulnerability to germs as experienced in the television story “The Bubble Boy.” In that story a boy with a malfunctioning immune system ended up being exposed to a host of fatal germs when his germ-free bubble was accidently violated.

“Modern society has gone overboard with deploying bacterial soaps, lotions and cleaning products,“ argues Barke. “They indiscriminately kill germs, yes, but they also wipe out the good bacteria that help maintain a strong and diverse microbiome against potential diseases.”

This reminds me of an old South African couple that stunningly refused to buy too many sanitisers in a local shop last week, fearing that this would “compromise the natural defence systems of their bodies to fight Covid-19”

Reading the book, one gets the sense that there are some commercial forces that might be pushing scientists, the media and politicians toward solutions of containing the virus through expensive methods involving costly (and highly profitable) vaccines, sanitisers, cleaners, etc. Missing significantly, in the campaign to defeat Covid-19, are discussions to do with eating healthy and taking vitamin tablets that Barke recommends.

To me Barke comes across in the book as someone who is proposing simpler and cheaper solutions towards containing Covid-19.

As I reflect on Barke’s book, I still wonder if the Covid-19 pandemic has received a panic-stricken response from some politicians, scientists, and doctors.
Might a few businesspeople in the health and sanitisation industry see Covid-19 as a public disaster, but also the biggest business boom in the 21st Century from which corrupt people can also profit?

The revelations in Barke’s book made me wonder if scientists have been compensated by someone not to talk about the cheaper and successful options to treat the Covid-19.

While, I am optimistic that a vaccine is on the way, I even wonder if we will ever get one that is affordable to all peoples worldwide, especially Africans.
This 75-page book is a must-read for everyone in positions of responsibility for ensuring the good health of others and avoiding unnecessary loss of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa for the past 26 years.

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