Pandemic expert Peter Marghella appeared on KGVO’s Talkback on March 18 to speak about the COVID-19 outbreak, including projections of the outbreak’s longevity, as well as the most effective way to slow the rate of infection.  

Marghella begins by saying that the outbreak has been compared to the Spanish Flu, a pandemic that took the lives of about 100 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919. Projections have drawn comparisons to the Spanish Flu, hypothesizing that the outbreak of COVID-19 will last about 18 months with three distinct waves of infection.  

However, Marghella says that he has objections about comparing the Spanish Flu to the novel coronavirus.  

“The issues I have with is that, one, this is COVID-19, a novel virus. The protagonist virus was coronavirus, which we live with all the time, just like rhinovirus. But this is a mutation, and we’ve never seen anything like it before. It should by no means be compared to influenza, which is a whole different animal that behaves in a completely different fashion.” 

According to Marghella, the second issue is that transportation during the Spanish Flu was slow to facilitate the spread of the disease. However, modes of transportation in 2020 have been able to spread the virus worldwide in only a few months. 

Marghella also spoke about the notion of “flattening the curve.” This is a popular graph circulating social media and mass media that demonstrates the rates of inflection with and without preventive measures. Logically, implementing preventive measures—such as social distancing and vigorous hand-washing—slows the rate of infection. “Flattening the curve” is crucial in ensuring that the country’s healthcare system is not overwhelmed above its current capacity of between 940 thousand and 960 thousand hospital beds nationwide.  

“The flatten the curve comment that everyone is hearing, spoken very loudly and importantly, is the notion that we have to try to elongate the epidemic curve to keep it underneath that period or point,” Marghella says. If we exceed that...static amount of healthcare resources, we end up crushing the healthcare infrastructure of the United States because we can’t accommodate the surge.”  

Marghella says that dividing the types of symptoms is important in “accommodating the surge” of infection rates. The first set of symptoms are milder in nature and include flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, a sore throat, and a runny nose. The second set of symptoms are more severe: symptoms include a fever of above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, tightness in the chest, bloody sputum, and signs of pneumonia. These are serious symptoms that should immediately receive medical care.  

The least at-risk population in the country are children and adults up to 60 years old without underlying health conditions and non-smokers.  

This population can still fall ill to COVID-19, but the symptoms tend to be mild and patients recover quickly; nonetheless, it is very important for the least at-risk to practice the same preventive techniques to protect the more vulnerable populations.  

When asked what Marghella would say to the Missoula City-County Health Department about managing the current outbreak, he responds:  

"Babsolutely forward-leaning. You are behind the power curve with this event because you have lost the pre-event deliberate planning phase, where you could have addressed most of the things you could have put in place the minute that warnings appeared that the outbreak was going to occur. There has to be an absolute acceptance that this is an emergency of a large scale in your own backyard, and no one is going to get a bypass from this at all. The acceptance is that this has potential universal impacts on the human species.”  

Marghella emphasizes that planning in a community is critical, even if it does not match 100% of the needs of a population.  

Marghella concludes his time with KGVO by mentioning some of the positives of the current outbreak there is about a 96% survival rate from the illness. Children and healthy adults are unaffected by the severe symptoms of the virus.  

Furthermore, Marghella reminds listeners, we’ll get through this the best we can.