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Recovery: Our lives depend on it

Reynolds highlights mental and emotional recovery resource, while on the world stage experts say food is medicine and can change the outcome from COVID-19

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | Dec 2, 2020

Governor Kim Reynolds told Iowans Tuesday that she was cautiously optimistic that the surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus was stabilizing and in some parts of the state decreasing, “but there is still much work to do.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Emmet County has 279 active cases of COVID-19 with 768 total cases reported since the county’s first case May 13, 2020. 467 have recovered and 24 county residents have lost their lives. 214 are hospitalized and 43 are in an ICU in RMCC Region 3 of which Emmet County is part.

Governor Reynolds said new admissions to the hospital and to ICUs were declining.

“Experience has shown holiday events where people are gathered to celebrate contribute to an increase in cases, but we are cautiously optimistic that our mitigation steps are currently achieving what they are meant to do. I do not take these steps lightly because I know the impact they have on Iowans.”

Asked about whether the state would address the threats to mental and physical health from loss of income, inability to pay rent and utilities and food insecurity COVID-19 has brought to Iowans, Gov. Reynolds said she called on the U.S Congress to pass a relief bill.

Gov. Reynolds also talked of progress toward a vaccine for COVID-19. As the Estherville News reported in Monday’s edition, Pfizer has already applied for emergency approval from the FDA for a vaccine developed and in studies at the University of Iowa. Moderna, a pharmaceutical company out of Boston, has also applied for emergency approval.

Each company:s solution leverages mRNA technology, which could have an impact on serious diseases, such as COVID-19, due to its shorter manufacturing times, greater effectiveness, and inexpensive production cost.

Messenger RNA directs the body’s protein production in a more targeted way, presenting an opportunity to combat serious diseases in a way not possible before.

But despite their similar production technologies, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines showed differences in clinical trial results and storage needs.

The companies also have varying supply and distribution plans as well.

Both COVID-19 vaccine candidates have proven to be highly effective based on Phase 3 clinical trial data. But the vaccines have been on slightly different paths.

Moderna said it can make 20 million doses for the U.S this year and between 500 million and one billion doses for 2021. Pfizer plans to distribute 50 million doses by the end of 2020 if approved, and 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

According to Samantha McGrail of Pharma News Intel, if these experimental COVID-19 vaccines gain approval from FDA, they will be the first-ever authorized vaccines that use mRNA. This new development would not only help to combat the ongoing pandemic, but could also uncover an entirely new line of vaccines against various diseases.

Medical personnel, essential workers, people at risk for serious complications of COVID-19 and elderly people will be prioritized for the first few months: availability of the vaccine.

What about everyone else?

Tuesday was the date of the conference Resetting the Food System from Farm to Fork. Among several topics at the three-hour virtual, worldwide conference, a panel discussed food as medicine. The urgency of eating healthier, of reducing food waste, and consuming more plant-based foods has been sent out in messaging from various sources for years. This week, experts made it clear that nutrient-dense foods could actually provide enough natural immunity for our bodies to improve their fight against COVID-19 and other fatal viruses that may come around in the future.

Whether as youngsters we learned to balance the four major food groups or took more varied bites from the food pyramid, or we haven:t given it much thought beyond eating what’s in front of us, the panelists said it was vital for each one of us to start thinking of food as medicine and fuel, and to eat in a way that will strengthen us for the challenges ahead.

Peggy Liu, founder of the Joint US-China Collaboration for Clean Energy (JUCCCE), said as more people are looking to Eastern medicine, from chiropractic care to yoga to improve their health, and at Eastern ways of looking at food.

“Living food really embeds itself into every single cell of our body, into our DNA, and helps us to really be stronger. Just like nature is resilient, we can be more resilient,” Liu said.

Dr. Mark Hyman said, “I think COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities in the American population to infectious disease, and it started the conversation around food as medicine and how changing our food system to create higher quality, more nutrient-dense food that creates better health for our overall population is a good strategy for pandemic resistance.”

We know now that Covid-19 is a long-term public health threat. Until an effective vaccine is widely available, it will continue to spread.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the immune system plays a critical role in whether you recover from the virus or you die from it. In fact, most coronavirus-related deaths are due to the immune system going haywire in its response, not damage caused by the virus itself. So what exactly is happening in your body when you get the virus, and who is at risk for a more severe infection?

When you first become infected, your body launches its standard innate immune defense like it would for any virus. This involves the release of proteins called interferons that interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate inside the body’s cells. Interferons also recruit other immune cells to come and attack the virus in order to stop it from spreading. Ideally, this initial response enables the body to gain control over the infection quickly.

The novel coronavirus gains entry into a cell by latching onto a specific protein called the ACE2 receptor that sits on the cell’s surface. These receptors are most abundant in the lungs, which is why Covid-19 is considered a respiratory illness.

In some people, however, the virus will replicate and spread rapidly before the immune system wrestles it under control. One reason this can happen is if a high quantity of viral particles infect the body — which is why doctors and nurses, who are exposed to huge amounts of the virus multiple times a day caring for patients, can have more severe infections even if they are young and healthy. The more virus there is, the harder it is for the immune system to manage.

Another reason the body can lose control over the virus lies in the immune system itself. The most vulnerable populations during the pandemic are elderly people, whose immune systems naturally start to decline with age, and people who are immunosuppressed because of another illness or medication. A suppressed immune system can result in a weaker initial interferon response or a delayed antibody response, allowing the virus to spread from cell to cell relatively unchecked.

For now, your best defense against the virus is to support your immune system with sleep, exercise, and good nutrition and, most importantly, to wash your hands and practice social distancing so you don’t get infected in the first place.

As more patients have been infected and researchers have been able to learn more about COVID=19, the role of nutrition in fighting disease has become more clear. Giving the brilliant, highly specialized cells of your immune system all they need in order to flourish can’t guarantee you won’t get the virus, but will help you build a strong baseline of health and recover faster if you do become sick.

At a time when millions are at risk for the coronavirus, the prescription for food as a medicine to boost immunity is vital. In fact, it is imperative for all of us to pay attention to our diet and nutritional status as the pandemic continues to rage, Dr. Hyman said.

Geeta Maker-Clark is a culinary medicine innovator at the University of Chicago. Dr. Maker-Clark said, “The differential availability and affordability of healthy foods in lower-income, disinvested communities have always been contributors to health disparities, and are currently a critical determinant between who lives and dies from Covid-19. What is the real cost of cheap processed food on human health? What will it cost us in the time of Covid-19? We are living through a time that calls for a full-scale mobilization of all available public health knowledge. A prevention plan from our federal and state governments needs to include whole food and vitamin-rich nutrition. This sensible, evidence-based directive along with the requisite support for farmers, community food operations, safely opened farmers markets, and increased funding for equitable access to healthy food can and will save millions of lives. It is time to eat our fruits and vegetables, and do what we can to make sure our communities are eating them too.

Liu said, “It’s challenging to change the emotional and historical attachments to certain foods. This will change if we have some kind of salon that includes farmers, doctors, nutritionists, yoga teachers, mothers, elementary school teachers in the same room talking about how food is the most intimate act we do to our bodies. Why are we not paying more attention to it? We have to redraw the narrative on food.”