A 1995 Smith-Cotton High School graduate, now a doctor in California, is at the forefront in the battle with COVID-19.
According to information provided by the University of California, Davis, Dr. George R. Thompson is an associate professor of clinical medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine near Sacramento with a joint appointment in the Departments of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases.
Thompson, an infectious disease specialist, was recently interviewed by Science magazine about his role in February in treating the first U.S. case of community-acquired COVID-19. Thompson and his team at UC Davis used a new experimental drug, remdesivir, on the patient. On Wednesday, he spoke with the Democrat by phone.
Thompson said UC Davis discovered remdesivir and that the research on medications for COVID-19 is going well.
“There’s a number of medications in different stages of development,” he said. “(Remdsivir) was actually used for a cat coronavirus. So, there was not a whole lot of interest initially.
“Then it was looked at for Ebola in clinical trials,” he continued. “So, the good news from that is the company that makes remdesivir, Gilead (Sciences), had a lot of drugs sitting around (because) they had just done those clinical trials.”
Since remdesivir had shown efficacy in cat coronavirus, Thompson said they opened a “compassionate use” program for UC Davis to give the medication to their sickest COVID-19 patients.
“There are actually now several clinical trials looking at remdesivir in a more controlled fashion,” he added. “So, now we’ll have real data. There’s a placebo-controlled study and then there’s also a five- versus 10-day duration study. So, it depends on how sick a patient is which study we put them in.”
Thompson said as a doctor, working with the pandemic is difficult.
“Every day we start the day with a conference call,” he noted. “Because there’s so many papers publishing daily, that it’s really important for us to keep up and decide what information out there needs to be integrated into our practice.”
He added the spread of the virus is a “density phenomenon” that is manifesting more rapidly in metropolitan areas than in rural areas such as Sedalia and Pettis County.
“That’s why New York City is really struggling right now,” Thompson said. “The importance of washing your hands and staying home, those lessons were not listened to by other locations.
“And that’s why they are really struggling right now,” he continued. “I think that’s a lesson we’d be wise to learn from other locations. Because we all think it can’t happen to us. Those are the main lessons, keep your distance, wash your hands. That bides time for the health care community.”
Flattening the virus’s curve gives hospitals and researchers time to develop better treatment options.
Thompson said COVID-19 is so infectious because it’s a totally new virus.
“This is a new coronavirus that humans have not seen before,” he explained. “So, no one is immune. This is what we see with no immunity in a population, a lot of infection. And then a significant number has severe disease.”
Thompson said the ultimate goal is to find a vaccine and he added infectious disease doctors around the world are giving 100% of their time in searching for a vaccine for COVID-19.
“It’s amazing,” he noted. “Most people work about 80 hours a week and that’s everybody. HIV researchers are only doing this.
“I mostly take care of cancer patients with infections and now this is all I’m doing,” he continued. “That’s been kind of sweet to see actually. It’s sort like the world’s coming together to see what we can do.”
He added that during this difficult time, he encourages others to not forget human kindness.
“A lot of my friends are saying this is devastating the economy, this is really difficult to deal with,” he noted. “I certainly understand that, but part of staying home is just loving your neighbor.
“You may be fine, but your 65-year-old neighbor may not be,” he continued. “I think that’s something that really needs to be discussed. … Staying home and not getting infected is a way to protect those around you. I think people kind of forget that.”
Thompson added that children seem to have the least symptoms when they get COVID-19 and 25% of adults are asymptomatic but can still pass the virus to others.
“You can give it to the folks around you and not know,” he explained. “Staying home for now is the way to take care of your family and your friends.”