Weekly Report from the Bellingen Covid-19 Clinic: Dr Trevor Cheney

By January 12, 2021 In Focus One Comment
Dr Trevor Cheney gives his weekly report from the Bellingen Shire Covid-19 Clinic

Dear Bellinger Shire


(By the way – no cases in the Region)

Oh it is so nice to be wrong, – I hope.  I (and a large bulk of medical leaders, epidemiologists, other State Premiers, etc) feared that the super spreading events of Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney going ahead, while dealing with an active outbreak, would hit us by now with a new wave.  We haven’t seen it! This is great.  I still hope.  It will be even greater if, by 14 Jan (ie 2 weeks incubation period), we have all 0 cases. The same goes for Brisbane, who have politely endured a 3 day absolute lockdown and have not seen a full outbreak, although the partner of the Medihotel cleaner who was found to have the new UK more infectious strain is tonight tested positive.

Good luck to Qld health. It is interesting to still see some people whinging on the news about losing 1 weekend of activity.  I hope they have mates in Soho (London).   There will be a spate of individuals – including an occasional epidemiologist or infectious disease specialist who will now argue that any lockdown is an overreaction and NSW is doing ok with the softer approach.  Time will tell.  Such is science.  Some media and the minority report, will call for “balance” in reporting opinions. “Balance” is a really challenging concept these days in public debate in a “post truth world”, and I would like to explore that in the future.

It is interesting that the WA government is having none of that and they will stay on, effectively, an elimination line.  Because they can.  If you haven’t been to WA it is hard to imagine the beautiful immensity of the desert border. Still, it is permeable.  They have successfully held out feral starlings, and loud large self entitled QLD tycoons, but are failing with cane toads, and lost it with rabbits, foxes, Kookaburras, rainbow lorrikeets, and federal policies on controlling drink driving.  Yes, these are all considered feral pests in WA.

Incidentally, we were also proud WA citizens for 11 years and our kids are Sandgropers by birth.

So, the next super spreading event has also come and done its business in Sydney.  I have seen no reports of positive cases from it, though it is early days and we will not be able to put it to bed till the holiday/celebration/mourning weekend of the 26th, when we can have another one.   However, last week’s big event threw up some cases of another darker, and possibly even deadlier, pandemic that has been circling the world with death and disaster for a very long time.

I’m talking about the cricket, and the racism.

I listened to a podcast on the weekend, which discussed with criminologists a concept of epidemics of toxic ideas.  They addressed copy-cat crimes and suicide.  But skirted around the mania of tribal hate.  Racism has always intrigued me as such a bizarre concept, be it super scary.  From a scientific inquirer’s perspective it is a non entity.  It seems historically that Empires have done brilliantly with it as an assumed modus operandi.  Since Darwin’s thesis started to gain traction, privileged (read rich old white men of fortunate inheritance) have then tried to subsume and evolved superiority into the justification for their privilege.  Sadly, just like the old buggers who absolutely knew the sun spins around the Earth and would burn anyone who suggested otherwise, the collective human search for reality has not treated their claim kindly.

There is a museum in the US which holds lots of old brains.

At the turn of the 20thcentury there was an industry of pseudoscience seeking to demonstrate that other races had smaller brains, and so could be justified as inferior. Hard examination and actual measurement proved this false.  Then they claimed men had bigger brains than women, and hence were the rightful masters of the universe.  Sounded sweet till someone discovered that whales, elephants and all sorts of mammal have much bigger brains, (and much bigger phalluses), than men.   Actually, when they measured the more meaningful parameter of brain per body mass, Women win hands down!!

So from the perspective of the thinker or scientist, or physician, what is Race?  Absolute Hogwash.  It is meaningless and indefensible. It is a self-delivered slap in one’s own face denying the self the wonder and privilege of the immense diversity of life experience.

From a physician’s perspective – take the skin off and we all look, and work the same underneath.

Now this may sound like obvious revisionist motherhood PC statements – especially to those born after the generation of our recently departed Helen Reddy. It is perhaps a little distant in the Bellingen shire, which has only a very small smattering of non anglo–Caucasian people.

Unfortunately it still burns for me because I can remember in primary school in QLD being taught that aborigines were inferior, apart from the occasional noble savage, and were dying out anyway. The arrogance and hypocrisy were as transparent as presidential tweets.  I worked with a guy in the Pilbara who was hidden under a bush when the policeman came to take “mixed colour” kids away.  That kind of stuff is in our national recent living memory.  And when I was a kid it was considered “Politically Correct” to trash and abuse anyone not of Anglo stock, and especially of dark coloured skin.  It was also “PC” to bash suspected gays and persecute anyone of different ability. It was not long ago.  To decry such bastardry is not politically correct. It’s just correct.   Respect, peace and inclusion are so sweet , but so fragile.

So what has this rant got to do with a Covid19 newsletter?  So much of the news out of the US is underlined instantly by “race”, even the medical news.  Last week there was a brief and distressing reference to a much higher rate of Covid19 in the “black population”.  One could imagine it to mean that having African heritage is a weakness and risk in itself.

Ok, so a fascinating article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA -one of the worlds top 5 most prestigious journals) published in December looked into 35000 USA hospital admissions in the middle of the year.  Indeed there was a disproportionate rate of African American people amongst those with covid19 being admitted 22%– and that is about double their population quota.  But regarding the death rate-  Males significantly higher than female,  “white” much deadlier than “ black or Hispanic”,  and of course old much more than young (ouch on all 3 for me!).    Being “Black” is not an inferior state.  Being Poor or a disadvantaged, persecuted minority really, really is.  This is a theme that flows through medical literature.  Race is a meaningless political construct that hurts, not helps.

However this is not to diminish the concept of ethnicity.  This is very important to us medically.  I really want to know your ethnicity.  Anglo-Celts have inherited a far higher rate of coeliac disease and haemochromatosis.  Nordic have a big risk of skin cancer in Australia.  Mediterranean people have a higher rate of thalasseaemia. East Asians have a higher rate of lactose intolerance, and milk allergy. Japanese people have a really low rate of heart disease – until they move to America, and then it becomes the same as their milieu.  Some with dark skin African heritage have a higher rate of a genetic condition called G6PD deficiency, which damages red blood cells.  And so it goes on.

But this is more related to the collective experience and events in your family tree.  Ironically in breeding in farming, and to some extent in humans, mixing your family tree across broadly different ethnicities brings a vigour and often physical advantages.  Yet so many cultures will kill their offspring – metaphorically or physically rather than let them marry out of the tribe.

Ultimately the constructs of race and the subsequent feeling of right to abuse others of a perceived different “race” is a socially manufactured construct.  African Americans have been sick with Covid19 because so many more are condemned to poverty.  The lack of progress in groups spurned by racists is so often a manufactured shackle.  A child in Beagle Bay  (the Kimberley) has a brain just as beautiful in potential as the one entering a household in Vaucluse.  Just starts with none of the privilege.

According to the news reports, a dangerous proportion of the insurrectionists attacking the US seat of Government this week, and some of their state legislatures, are proud white supremacists.  A certain fading US leader seems to call on those groups for support.  They feel a right to attack, beat and kill “the other”. We saw what happened in Christchurch with our own home grown Racist.  This disease threatens the stability of our biggest and most important national ally perhaps even more than Covid19, and horribly hurt our closest national cousin.

I was really confused and distressed before Christmas to see the publication of the national writing competition of the Whitlam Institute at the Western Sydney University.  School students were asked to write on the topic of “What matters to young Australians”.   5 out of 6 wrote of racism – endured or witnessed.

As our vaccine roll out occurs, or horrible thought a major break out occurs, lack of privilege may determine one’s risk, even in Australia.  I really do not want to let that happen.  And in uncertain times, when the world is changing, that old epidemic popping up this week in the Sydney Cricket Ground suddenly finds fertile ground in people who feel their privilege or security threatened, and need “ the other” to blame.  Lets keep looking at ourselves, our tolerance, and exposing and withering our inbuilt prejudice.

The flip side is exemplified by the Yuggambeh Youth choir in South East QLD.  Look ‘em up. They are rediscovering beautiful music and educative stories of the local indigenous people of the Nerang and Logan Rivers area (Gold Coast), assumed by so many to be extinct. Learning more than 1 language is a huge advantage to any brain, and often missed by our Anglophone dominance. Relearning a language of your place and heritage carries a whole new expansion of one’s thinking.  A similar language project is taking hold with our local Gumbangyirr language development.

Now the good news out of that article – for those fearful with their hypertension and cardiovascular disease.  Survival rates were better in people prescribed Blood pressure medicines such as Ace Inhibitors and Calcium channel blockers, as well as Statins for cholesterol (check with your GP).  That point runs counter to the initial scare about Ace Inhibitor medicines.  They also did better if taking vitamin D and vitamin C.  (These are still not officially endorsed, and nothing is listed as a cure.)

Unfortunately, against a lot of early enthusiasm people taking the anti malarial hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin fared worse, with a significantly worse survival rate.  Watch this space.

Horrible harsh numbers to compare our condition at argumentative dinner parties, when someone wants to debate lockdowns and border controls:

1 in 1000 Swedes and Americans have already died from Covid19, compared to Sweden’s immediate neighbours – Norway and Finland ( with different policies) about 1 in 10 000, while in  NSW we still have lost only about 1 in 150 000.  Our island home!!

More good news, I found an article that counted 63 vaccine candidates still in trials.  Some use a little bit of the unique messenger RNA of the virus to stimulate our immune system, some use a unique snippet of the core code, some use a different harmless virus but bonded with a bit of the infectious spike of the Covid19 that you see on the cartoons and news reports, some use a part of one of the proteins in the virus and bind it with a kind of prickle (“adjuvant”) that stirs up the immune system.

It looks like we may ultimately be getting up to 22 different technologies and the sheer breadth of the developments may yet answer the nagging question by the end of the year as to whether a mutant form might outstrip the first vaccines.

Another article in the Royal Society of Great Britain, offered new research on mask wearing.  Firstly, reinforcing that in normal activity you do not build up carbon dioxide levels wearing a mask.  Next a simple mask filters out 99% of droplets, which is where most infectious particles are found.  But get this: if someone sneezes at you without a mask at 2 metres you get hit in the face with 10 000 times more droplets than if they sneeze behind a mask from only half a metre.  EW!!!.

So after all the doom and gloom, I would also like to add another report that I heard, but cannot remember the author, (I think it was a New York Times researcher) that basically stated that statistically, with all the reported conflicts and warts,  NOW is actually the safest time ever to be living in Human history.  It’s just the news that is bad.  So keep some perspective. Be responsible and caring of your neighbour of any colour or ethnicity. Wear a mask.


Remember this is just one perspective, and if anything here raises a concern, consult with your own GP, who may bring an interesting cross fertilisation with their own rich ethnicity.  Ginnagai!


Dr Trevor Cheney




One Comment

  • Vicki Parkes says:

    As always, thank you for your work and for these informative articles~ We are blessed to have you in the Shire. Vicki

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