Dr. Marshall Bloom, Associate Director for Science Management at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) and Chief of the Biology of Vector-Borne Viruses Section, is not looking for any more public recognition right now, having recently been inducted into the Montana BioScience Hall of Fame. But he is willing to tell his story about his own personal encounter with COVID-19 “if it can help get the message out there” that this pandemic is real and even the best efforts at staving it off are not foolproof.
On Monday, December 14, Bloom tested negative for COVID-19. But three days later he developed a dry cough and reported it to his office according to protocols and was tested for COVID once again. Three days after that, on Sunday, December 20, the results came back positive. Over the next three days, he said, he didn’t feel too bad. Then on Wednesday, the 23rd, it hit like a freight train. His body’s response to the disease was not typical, however. He never got a fever, his oxygen levels never got low and he did not suffer from any severe respiratory symptoms. Instead, it hit him in the gut. He suffered from sudden severe abdominal pain accompanied by nausea with projectile vomiting and severe diarrhea. By Christmas Eve, he had checked into the ER at Marcus Daly Hospital and would remain in the Intensive Care Unit for four and half days. He was released on the 27th. His wife Tonia also came down with the disease within a few days of his diagnosis.
“If I can get it, taking all the precautions that I’ve been taking, then anybody can get it,” said Bloom. He figured that he could have been infected and shedding the virus for up to three to five days before showing symptoms. He says that’s why it’s so important for people with no symptoms to be wearing masks and social distancing. He said all the people he interacted with regularly also wore masks, except at the supermarket. He surmises that may be where he picked it up.
Bloom recognizes that masks are not totally effective at preventing infection. They do more to keep you from infecting others. That’s why everybody needs to be wearing them, he said. Even then, he admits, they are not 100% effective by any means. But, he wants to emphasize, there are a number of measures that we can take to prevent spreading this disease. We can take the individual initiative and use all these measures, including using masks, social distancing and hand washing. Although none of these measures is 100% effective, they do help reduce chances by reducing transmission and taken all together they can be very effective deterrents. He said it’s called the “Swiss Cheese Respiratory Virus Pandemic Defense.”
“You have to imagine each measure as a slice of swiss cheese. Each one allows some virus to get through. But put them all together and they won’t get through.”
“It was pretty spooky there for a couple of days, I’ll tell you,” said Bloom of his experience. “This is a very sneaky virus and the people that think that this isn’t real, I don’t know where these people are coming from.”
“We’ve had 19 COVID-related deaths in Ravalli County,” said Bloom. “If that many people had died at an intersection, we would all be pulling out all the stops to figure out the problem. These 19 people died at the intersection of their lives and this disease. It is very disappointing that the message coming from Ravalli County Public Health officials is not gaining more traction.”
“A person can do all they can,” said Bloom, “but the situation is that at some level you are at the mercy of someone you don’t know, you are at the mercy of someone who doesn’t know they have this virus and can transmit it for a couple of days before they know that they are sick. This is different from most other infectious agents,” said Bloom, “and that fact alone should encourage people to take the precautions that we can take, to use all the slices of Swiss cheese that we have available to us.”
And regarding masks, Bloom said, “Wearing a mask is not brain surgery. People who say that wearing a mask is not safe, that it’s going to do this or do that, neuro brain surgeons and heart surgeons wear a mask all day long without any difficulty whatsoever. I don’t know where this idea came from that masks are hazardous to your health. That is simply untrue. And I am very distressed that people would be spreading that blatant misinformation when the simple act of wearing a mask can do so much to keep us from getting it and also to keep us from spreading it.”
Bloom said that he did want to compliment, in the highest terms possible, the performance of the staff at Marcus Daly Hospital – “the level of care and concern was truly commendable. We can all be proud of the job the hospital staff is doing,” he said. He also said the same holds true for the people at the county’s Public Health Office who he also dealt with.
Michael Howell can be contacted at [email protected] or 406-239-4838.