DETROIT — A lack of confidence in science and a boundless supply of misinformation spread via social media has led America to where it is today — a nation still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, unable to get enough people fully vaccinated to stop its spread, said Dr. Marc Rosenthal, an emergency department physician from Grosse Pointe Park.
And that's frustrating when you work in a hospital, treating patients who continue to stream in severely ill from a virus that could have been stopped by a widely available vaccine.
"When people decide where they're going to get their trusted information and it is from Facebook or from any of these other websites, it's very hard to fight that," said Rosenthal, who works both in a Detroit hospital's emergency room and with the National Disaster Medical System to help wherever there's a need in times of crisis.
Most recently, that was in central Louisiana in August — at the height of its most recent coronavirus surge, where he helped at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana, which was overwhelmed with sick patients and not enough health care workers to treat them. Earlier in the pandemic, he was deployed to Wisconsin on a similar mission.
"We go in and say, 'What are your needs? What do you need us to do?' And we do it as long as it's within our capabilities," said Rosenthal, 66, who's worked more than two decades for the NDMS. Created by Congress in the 1980s, the medical service deploys teams of health care workers to help out in medical emergencies and fill gaps in the U.S. health care system.
Sometimes that means sleeping in tents or flying into disaster-ravaged areas by helicopter — like he did in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Sometimes it means he's doing rounds in an intensive care unit. Other times he's helping to set up mass vaccination sites — like he did in California in the spring.
But Rosenthal said his job isn't to judge those who haven't followed the public health advice to get vaccinated.
"We're there to help people," Rosenthal said. "We're not going to judge whether or not you should have done this or shouldn't have done that. Medical care is needed. The system will respond and provide the resources to help that community, or that state, or region.
"I think as healers or as physicians, we try to heal. We're there to help. And yes, we can feel that people make bad decisions. We say all the time if you don't wear a seat belt and you get ejected from the car, your chance of survival is not very good. But do I still treat the patient? Yes. But it might not be enough."
The same goes for people who refuse to get COVID-19 vaccines.
"There've been documented cases of people are in the hospital and in the ICU and they're dying and they still refuse to believe they're dying of COVID. And then there are others who say, 'I wish I'd gotten the vaccine,' " Rosenthal said.
As of Thursday, about 55.5% of Americans were fully vaccinated against coronavirus. In Michigan, that number is even lower — 52.2%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's not enough, Rosenthal said, to end the cycle of sickness and death. He predicts he'll have to deploy again in the months ahead when the virus surges in some other part of the U.S. He acknowledged the worst may still not be over yet in Michigan, either, as cases continue an upward climb along with hospitalizations.
"As we get more and more people vaccinated, that should occur less and less often, but right now there are only estimates as to exactly how many people have to be vaccinated in order to stop the cycle," he said. "I would not be surprised if we see further upticks especially as we go into the colder weather and people being unmasked and in schools and in workplaces and such."
Rosenthal recoils when politics are brought into conversations about vaccines, mask-wearing requirements or when people argue they shouldn't have to follow mandates because of their freedoms as Americans to choose whether to follow public health recommendations.
"Public health should never be political," he said. "Public health should be based on what's the best thing to do for our community, our state, our country or the world, for that matter.
"One in 500 Americans has died to COVID," Rosenthal said. "I try to talk to people about being a patriot. It's really helping your fellow American."
Right now, that means getting a vaccine and wearing a mask, he said.
"When people say, 'I don't believe science,' well, they believe science for other things," Rosenthal said. "Everyone has their cell phone. That came from science. You have your 60-inch or 80-inch LCD TVs. You have your computers, your notebooks and your tablets that are super powerful in a very small space. That's all from technology, which is based on science."