We sat down with Samaritan Health’s go-to infectious disease physician, Adam Brady, this last Friday, April 23. The 18 min video interview is wide-ranging, or if you prefer, the transcript is below.
TCA : Hi, I’m Sally Lehman, and I’m with The Advocate. Today, I’m sitting down with Dr Adam Brady, who works in Infectious Diseases at Samaritan Health Services in Corvallis, Oregon. Hello, Dr. Brady, and thank you for being here.
Dr. Adam Brady : Thanks for having me.
TCA : So, you received your undergraduate degree at Oregon State University, are you originally from Oregon?
Brady : I am, yeah. I grew up in Lake Oswego. I went to Lake Oswego High School and then went to OSU for my undergrad education.
TCA : And how long have you been at Samaritan Health Services
Brady : I’ve been at Samaritan for nearly five years now, so I finished my training in infectious disease in 2016 at OHSU and came straight here afterwards.
TCA : Obviously, the subject that is on everyone’s mind is COVID-19. So can you give us an idea of how this disease spread from one province in China to everywhere in the world?
Brady : So this infection has been obviously a lot more tricky than other viruses that we’ve had to deal with. And I think one of the game changers, there are a couple of them, sort of the stars have to align or you have to take a whole lot of passes for a virus to be able to spread rapidly across the world. One is it has to be very well transmitted between people, which obviously this one is as well. But there are other coronaviruses like SARS1 and MERS that sort of burn themselves out because they caused a whole lot of symptoms and caused people to get sick. That one of the game changers was COVID-19 is that it caused a whole lot of people to have an asymptomatic infection also. So, whereas with the flu and other viruses, you’re usually not contagious for very long before you have symptoms, if you are at all. This one, we have lots of healthy people walking around. And if you’re healthy, you can spread the virus, which is [what] makes it very difficult to isolate people and have people stay home if they’re feeling well.
TCA : So, what was it like at Samaritan when things first began to lock down?
Brady : Yeah, it was interesting, we were sort of flying by the seat of our pants somewhat. You know, it’s a brand new virus. I remember we had meetings as early as January 2020 before everything locked down. We were keeping our eye on the situation in China and elsewhere. And when cases started to come into the United States, we felt like we were somewhat ready to handle it. But it’s been a learning experience from as far as things change, recommendations change and staying on top of the most updated information has been paramount this entire time. So I feel like at Samaritan we are very proactive with how we have dealt with what COVID-19. You know, we stopped elective surgeries before it was mandated by the governor and sort of cut back. You know, this is way back in March of 2020. So being real proactive and I think it served us well throughout the pandemic.
TCA : A lot of hospitals across the country, across the world, were running low on supplies very early in the lockdown. Did that happen at Samaritan?
Brady : [Yeah, the supply chain was disrupted for us, just like [it was] for everyone. And we had a lot of difficulties with testing supply and so on. The testing, the media, the liquid the test swabs go in, the swabs themselves. Those were hard to come by. We got creative, partnering with LSU to have them create some of this media for us and then with [Personal Protective Equipment] as well. So, I’m sort of proud of our Materials Management Team. We never ran out of PPE. We were very creative with sourcing this from different vendors, and we had to do some rationing of personal protective equipment, but it was never to the stage where we weren’t able to provide safe protection for our staff.
TCA : That’s great, yeah, that’s very impressive. How did the TRACE program at OSU fit into that? Did they help? Did it hinder?
Brady : You know, when we were talking about partnering with OSU, this was before the TRACE program was really up and running. We were working with the Veterinary Lab at OSU to get the reagents that we needed for further testing supplies, which was a really nice partnership. The TRACE program has been very complimentary. It gives us information about what’s going on in the community about transmission rates, especially with people who aren’t sick. So it’s been helpful information, but it’s not as directly involved in sort of the clinical portion of COVID-19.
TCA : We’re going to stick with OSU. Recently one of the researchers there contributed to a new ventilator system to use with patients. Does Samaritan have anything to do with the testing of that or did you have any recommendations for them, or a way for you to be able to use those new ventilators?
Brady : I haven’t personally been involved in those discussions. I do know early on there is discussions with OSU about different pieces of ventilators and seeing if we could use 3-D printing to come up with items that might have been in short supply, but any sort of new medical device, like a different type of ventilator, has to go through lots of regulatory processes before it can actually be used. So myself, I can’t speak for everyone at Samaritan, I have not been involved intimately with that particular project, but I’m excited to see that is happening locally. Here at Samaritan, we were never short on ventilators. We actually were able to obtain more ventilators than we would have actually ended up ever needing through loans and leases and things like that. But as the pandemic wore on and we knew more about how to treat COVID-19, the reliance on ventilators has gone down, thankfully. So less people end up needing ventilators, whereas back in March of 2020 lots of people were becoming ventilated due to COVID-19. So advances in treatment of COVID-19 made that less of a less of a made ventilators, less of a need, thankfully.
TCA : How many COVID patients have you had at Samaritan Health Services?
Brady : We’ve had our fair share. It goes up and down depending on the levels of cases. We had the most at any one time over the winter in January, where across our five hospital system in Corvallis, Albany, Lebanon, Lincoln City and Newport, we had between 20 and 30 patients admitted at any one time. It’s creeping up to that level again. I think this morning, at least, we had nine patients that were hospitalized and it’s trending upward and these cases are continuing to go up. So we’re trying to make sure that we’re focusing lots on our vaccine effort to prevent that from happening and we’re ready for another surge in patients like we’re starting to see.
TCA : And I noticed that Samaritan Health Services is helping with the vaccination effort over at Reser Stadium, that seems to be going very well from everything I’ve heard. How do you feel about the process there, about people getting in in a timely manner and being able to get their vaccines?
Brady : I’ve been really proud of the effort. I actually just came from there now just to see what was going on. And it’s been a very smooth process. I’ve heard feedback from community members that have gone through that site. Samaritan has taken a pretty big role, if not a lead role, in getting that off the ground with excellent support and help from the county and state. But I think that’s something that Samaritan should be proud of and the region should be proud of. You know, that they’re able to do thousands of vaccines per day with minimal wait times. It’s a very friendly environment and everyone’s happy to be there. I know it is a barrier to some to get to a large vaccine site like that. So while we are running the Reser Stadium site, we also have smaller clinics out on the coast in Lincoln County and mobile sites that are working in the region as well.
TCA : What have we learned when we look at the response to this outbreak and surveilling for viruses like this?
Brady : I think we’ve learned a whole lot, and I hope that we as a society have learned a whole lot as well. There’s lessons good and bad that were learned, I think. And some people will take [this in] a little bit different ways. But as you can recall, early, early in the pandemic, it wasn’t really recommended that masks were used by the general public because we didn’t know if this virus was transmitting very well from your hands. And could you contaminate yourself by touching a mask all of the time? [We] don’t typically do that for other viruses. And so as we learn more about how this virus is spread and how well masks worked, and it didn’t seem that surfaces transmitted COVID-19 very well, we were able to pivot and fully recommend that. So I think one of the lessons learned is that we have to be flexible and not sort of hold on to preconceived notions of things, because with the new virus or the new infection or an emergency like this, you have to act fast. And if you don’t, then you’re going to be behind. And so you can’t always be right on the first go. You have to go with the best available evidence in order to try to get ahead of something like this.
TCA : So when do you anticipate the next big virus coming along?
Brady : Yeah, you know, there’s always something, whether it be H1N1 flu or a Zika virus or Ebola virus, and we’re monitoring cases of Ebola that are going on in Africa at the moment. So it’s hard to predict these things. But in the world we live in today, when there’s so much interface between nature and large cities and lots of travel around the world, these things can happen. And, you know, it seems that to have a virus of the magnitude of COVID-19 that’s so well transmitted and well suited to replicate it in humans, it seems to be, and I couldn’t say hopefully when I say it is over-once-in a maybe a hundred year event. The last time that happened with the Spanish flu, 1918. So again, hopeful, this is the only pandemic of our lifetimes. But in science, it’s hard to predict sometimes.
TCA : We can always hope that it is the only one in our lifetime though. Yes.
Brady : If it does happen again, I do hope that we learn lessons as a society and we find our public health partners better than we have in the past and we’ll be ready. So I hope we do learn a lesson once we come out on the other side of COVID-19 and we are more prepared for whatever we come next
TCA : I do want to ask some advice for people out there that might be listening to this or seeing this, for people who have been really cautious and careful and staying at home and wearing masks. What do you see in terms of pandemic burnout?
Brady : It’s real. My experience every day – or staff in the hospital – have experienced. This is exhausting, as I mentioned. This has been going on for over a year now. And you keep thinking it’s going to be over and you’re going to move on. And then you look back and it’s been an entire year. So to people who are feeling burned out, I totally get that and I understand completely. But this is also the most hope that we’ve ever had in the pandemic. We have vaccines that are rolling out – nearly half of people eligible have gotten a dose of vaccine in many parts of the country, in our region as well. So I think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the more people that become vaccinated and the safer that we are. The more careful that we are until more people become vaccinated, we’re going to come out of this on the other side because we still have a little ways to go.
TCA : So how is Benton County doing compared to other counties or states as far as vaccination goes then?
Brady : [The] county’s doing very well with vaccination rates. The last time I looked, which is earlier probably from yesterday’s data, Benton County residents were only second to Lincoln County residents on the percentage of residents vaccinated. So really exceeding the levels, exceeding the state average and every age group from 16. So really, really looking positive, and then counting as far as the number of people being vaccinated so far, which is very, very encouraging.
TCA : How is Oregon doing compared to the other states?
Brady : In terms of vaccine rates, I would say it’s sort of middle of the pack. [Oregon’s] not at the top and it’s not at the bottom. So it’s probably a little bit less than 50 percent so far, but that’s climbing every day as well. Oregon has really been spared the brunt of the pandemic as far as cases are concerned. But with the arrival of variants and because we’ve been spared lots of cases, not a whole lot of people have natural immunity hereto COVID-19 by itself. So we’re especially reliant on people becoming vaccinated so that they are not infected. And as we see cases rising, Oregon has one of the highest rates of increase of COVID-19 cases now actually in the states, and those cases are overall low. They’re increasing at a rate that’s very concerning. So another reason that it’s very important to consider getting vaccinated, because they’re so effective at keeping you out of the hospital if you do get exposed.
TCA : What would be your advice for someone who wants to travel at this time?
Brady : So it’s a very individual decision. I think it depends on where you’re going, what your plans are, if you’re unvaccinated be very worried about going traveling at the moment, especially in an airplane or being around a whole lot of people, just because of cases that are spreading all over the United States. If you’re vaccinated, the CDC has brought out more guidance to say that you probably don’t need to quarantine if you come back. You probably don’t need to test before or after you come back. And that travel is generally safe once you’re vaccinated. So I think the general message is once you’re vaccinated, and having been vaccinated myself, I feel this, that a lot of the concern for your personal health and safety from COVID-19 is a whole lot less once you’re fully vaccinated. So as long as you’re not avoiding very risky scenarios like large indoor concerts or places where you may come in contact with lots of people who are potentially unvaccinated, travel in general is considered safe. [Also], it depends if you have an elderly person at home who’s unvaccinated, travel may not be wise. So it depends on your personal situation. But in general terms, being vaccinated greatly decreases your risk of travel.
TCA : And this is a question that can be a little controversial for some people, which is how often should the average person be cleaning or washing their cloth, facial masks?
Brady : Yeah, probably more than everybody is. Just for the sanitation reasons, it’s nice to wash it depending on how often you’re wearing it. If you’re wearing it just for ten minutes a day, you know, going into the grocery store, you might not even wear it as much as if you’re going to work and wearing it for an eight hour shift. So I think I would almost consider it like an article of clothing that you normally wear. You probably wouldn’t want to wear the same t-shirt for a few weeks in a row, try to keep a regular rotation of masks and keep them clean. Again, like I mentioned before, the concern’s with touching contaminated objects and then infecting yourself with COVID-19. But that seems to be an extremely unlikely thing to happen. But, you know, it depends if you’re around lots of people all day, you probably want to wash that mask every day. I have been usually wearing the disposable masks, and I will reuse them. But if I’m in an environment [where] I’m around a whole lot of people, then I’m probably not going to use that mask again. So I think it depends on your level of activity, but I wouldn’t forget to forget to wash it regularly in general.
TCA : Ok, so anything else that you want people to know about COVID-19?
Brady : Yeah, I do. I’m very worried right now, for people who are unvaccinated because we are seeing increasing levels of hospitalizations not only throughout Oregon, but in the Samaritan system. And invariably almost everyone, pretty much everyone, to be honest, that is hospitalized, has not been vaccinated. So I can tell you that if you are able to obtain a vaccine, everyone in the state of Oregon is eligible to get a vaccine and there are appointments out there, I would strongly encourage you to get vaccinated for COVID-19 because it will effectively keep you out of the hospital. And this month we’ve seen more people between the ages of 40 and 59 years old be hospitalized that are unvaccinated. And so, again, I strongly recommend considering vaccination. Over 91 percent of the doctors and clinicians at Samaritan have chosen to become vaccinated as well. So I think it’s something that if you have the ability to get it, that will protect you and those around you.
TCA : Well, thank you, Dr. Brady, and that’s everything I think. Thank you.
Brady : You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. And then one more thing too. If you’re interested in getting vaccinated, if you go to samhealth.org/getthevaccine, it’ll have information on Linn-Benton counties on how to get signed up for a vaccine. So I absolutely recommend it. And the sooner we do it, the sooner we get out of this. And the way we’re trending now, we may be heading towards more restaurant closures or risk. And nobody really wants that. So the more we can get vaccinated, the better off we’re going to be.
TCA : Yeah, I know that people in the Corvallis area really want the risk level to go down. So that’s the only way to do it really is to get more people to have needles in their arm.
Brady : Yeah, it is. And nobody wants to take the drastic measures that do work if we have to use them – closing things down. But no one wants to take those drastic measures. And I think we’ll be able to vaccinate ourselves out of this. But it’s just going to take time off. People get vaccinated.
TCA : All right. Thanks.
Brady : You’re welcome.