COVID Year- Dr. Ken Spear

Feb 28, 2021

Vanderburgh County Health Department Testing Site in July, 2020
Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

As we approach the anniversary of the first diagnosed coronavirus case in Vanderburgh County, we’re talking with local leaders for their thoughts on the past year of the pandemic.  In this first segment of the series, WNIN’s Steve Burger talked with Vanderburgh County Health Officer Dr. Ken Spear.

Transcript of interview with Dr. Ken Spear:

0:00:00 Burger: What do you remember from that time that early time?

Dr. Spear: I remember calling the mayor and saying we need to consider what's going on in the country and in the state and I had been talking to other health officers around the state who were starting to limit the size of groups. I know there has been a lot of conflict throughout the state and different counties where health officers have made a unilateral. decisions and I was really opposed to that because I do not have any enforcement authority, you know, we're not a police group or a police power. And so, you know, I thought I felt it was best to collaborate with the mayor and the commissioners and do it as a group, you know, and and I think it worked very well. Out of that developed a nightly meeting that has gone on for a year and has included elected officials, mayors, commissioners and the hospitals and the hospitals kept us up to date where they were on their staffing and their census. I think on a couple occasions the mayor actually  did issue an order decreasing the number of people in the groups. I'm thinking got down to 25 and then went up to around a hundred and then more recently, with the governor relaxing things moving to Stage 5 is pretty well relaxed. So for a while there, I was extremely depressed as you can tell I came real close to just leaving this job because I felt like the pressures were just more than a 74 year old guy should handle, you know, I did not but with the collaboration of the groups and everybody working together, it made it a lot easier. So I'm still here. 

00:01:56 Burger: At what point did you feel like things were changing in getting potentially really bad? 

00:02:06 Dr. Spear: We didn't really have our big run until later in the year initially. We were running lower numbers in the double digits, you know, 25, 30 and then all of a sudden were bouncing up in the triple digits 200, 300 and the hospitals were starting to sweat at that point mainly because the staff was working double time, double shifts and the ICU doctors were kind of wearing out and everybody was very concerned and then we had those big holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas and nobody really seemed to pay much attention to the recommendations. I think we had those big post-holiday spikes which were very disconcerting. But now it looks like we're going into a real lull. Thank God and hopefully it will continue. Hopefully, we can we get down to single or zero 

00:03:12 Burger: Okay, you are the County's Health Officer. And I know that you had to feel a great deal of responsibility and you mentioned that you were depressed for a while because of the weight of that responsibility. Can you give us some idea what it's like in to be in your role when that realization hits that your professional role and a pandemic are going to intersect very closely?

00:03:36 Dr. Spear: That was a real eye-opener. I had previously worked in ICU and I was a one-on-one position. I mean, I took care of one patient.  All of a sudden people are calling asking questions about how many people can we have at this wedding? How many people can we have here? And those are not things that I really ever trained for and so I was drinking public health like coming from a fire hose. Just trying to catch up with it. And if you look back there were no experts anywhere in the country, you know, initially we were told don't wear masks and we were told wear masks and we were told that they really don't help and all kind of issues around that and I mean just the amount of false information on social media and for a while we were trying to do tracing, local tracing at the health department and get to those people early on and I think we did a great job, but then it got overwhelming for our personnel trying to maintain yeverything else we do here and the tracing that you became overwhelming and we finally had to relent and let the state handle that. 

Related: COVID Between the Coasts Complete Coverage

00:04:49 Burger: What was the first thing you thought we really needed to do try to get this under control?

00:04:55 Dr. Spear: Decrease the size of groups- social distancing, smaller groups. A number of churches call and say can we still have service I said, you know, yes, you can but please recognize you need to socially distance and we did notice significant outbreaks associated with large group gatherings such as wedding receptions,  funerals. And  everybody's gotten much better about social distancing and masks. I thought you know social distancing, masking, hand-washing. Those are about the one thing that we could do, you know the really stop the spread. We didn't have a treatment at that time. 

00:05:33 Burger: What would you like to say about a year of the coronavirus pandemic? 

00:05:38 Dr. Spear: Well, I'm glad we got the vaccine and I'm glad we're coming into a lull right now and I hope it will continue. I was just reading an article the other day. Why are we seeing such a decrease in the number of cases and a number of suspicions that are being proposed by the number of researchers around the country. One, Is it seasonal? There are a  whole bunch of different reasons why people are suggesting they were coming into and I think the vaccines may be having an impact. at this point and we may actually be developing herd immunity because I think what they're saying is for every known case there's anywhere from six to ten that aren't known so they're out there either spreading it or asymptomatic and so a lot more people have had that virus in this country that we know of by testing and that really makes for the spread of herd immunity. And that is one of the suggestions one of the researchers out east is that we are seeing the effect of herd immunity, vaccinations. The other people. I think it really showed a lot of fortitude were the different stores that demanded masks. They became a significant arm of public health, you know, you don't come in here without a mask on so that was like the big box stores, grocery stores, the pharmacies they all were promoting public health by doing that, so I gave them a lot of credit.  

COVID Between the Coasts complete coverage