A Voice from the Frontline

A Voice from the Frontline

Dr. PJ Utz is our featured alumnus this March. He is the head of the Utz lab in the Department of Medicine, Standford. His lab studies immunology, autoimmunity, and vaccines for influenza and tuberculosis. Dr. Utz is one of the researchers who has taken up the baton and is at the front lines of the global fight against COVID-19.  Dr. Utz prepared a community letter addressing a number of significant points on how to move forward as a society in this unparalleled time in our history.

 At the time the original March edition of the ANRF Chronicle was written, COVID-19 had not yet been declared a pandemic nor impacted societies around the world with such severity. Now, as we prepare to publish this edition, we would like to further salute Dr. Utz as one of the researchers heading up this battle on behalf of us all. In addition to the alumni article which highlights the incredible career and impact Dr. Utz has had in the field of autoimmune we would like to share some of his insights into COVID-19.

According to Dr. Utz, while he has seen a shift in some behaviors, he stresses that far more will need to be done if we are to win this war. In his community letter Dr. Utz wants it to be clear that this virus is not to be taken lightly. It is far more contagious than most of us realize and far more dangerous than we thought.

“Many are not following guidelines and are placing the broader Bay area community, and communities all around the country, at great risk. The COVID pandemic should be taken much more seriously than I have been observing.”

A particular area which needs to be addressed is that young asymptomatic individuals are a large pool from which the virus spreads and infects other, perhaps more vulnerable, individuals. “In Wuhan, it is estimated that 30% or more of young people were infected and spreading the virus despite feeling well.” Young people in particular can have a huge impact in limiting the spread of COVID-19 by altering their own behavior and using tools familiar to them such as social media to encourages others to do the same. This group has the power to protect the more vulnerable including the elderly and those with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems. This is so much more than simply a cold or the flu and as such the shelter in place order needs to be strictly adhered to. The best hope humanity has of ending this pandemic as quickly as possible and limiting the impact it will have both physically, emotionally and economically is for the entire country to adhere to staying in and limiting contact. If we do not all actively participate in implementing these guidelines there will be no choice left but to deploy the National Guard and instigate a full and complete lockdown. None of us wish to see this in our neighborhoods, particularly as these resources can be better utilized in this fight if we take it upon ourselves to all do our part.

That being said Dr. Utz urges everyone to remain calm. “Is it time to panic? Absolutely not. Is it time to 100% shelter in place and mobilize local emergency response networks – Absolutely.”

According to Dr. Utz a key point not highlighted in many guidelines is the following:

“If you have symptoms and have been tested and are negative – for now still assume you are positive. There are many reports of people here in our county who initially tested negative, assumed they were negative, then converted to positive later when their viral load increased. By then, they had potentially infected others in the interim. Bottom line, if you have symptoms regardless of testing results – enter strict quarantine until you have guidance from your healthcare team.” It is equally likely that symptoms could be from a common cold or the flu but the risk of not making sure is too great. The same goes for if you suspect you have been exposed, in this case self-isolate and discuss the next appropriate steps with your healthcare provider.

For those who form part of the most vulnerable group, Dr. Utz recommends the following:

  • Don’t leave your house. Sheltering in place is the best way to protect yourself and others.
  • Maintain strict distancing at all times, you can go out to stretch your legs and talk walks but be cognizant of not walking close to others.
  • Limited those entering your house to only those that are absolutely necessary – a well-meaning, healthy teenager coming in to visit who is not aggressively self-isolating is a way that those who are at higher risk become infected.
  • If you have kids or grand kids living with you, and they are also being strictly isolated – enjoy the family time! But don’t let other children into the house…
  • People dropping off food and medical supplies should alert you that something has been dropped off but should only say hello from 6 feet away.
  • If you absolutely have to leave your home for doctor’s appointments or important therapies (e.g. chemotherapy, but not elective visits or PT), wipe down door handles or anything the public touches, wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, and don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth at all.

“Based on what we know today, if you don’t have the virus, and you do these things, then there is essentially no way to get infected and you’ll ride this out just fine.”

Even if all guidelines and orders are followed, even if we all make the necessary changes TODAY based on what we have seen globally infections will still continue to rise not peaking for weeks or months. It is critical that we all do our best to ensure that our medical, food and other resources are not stressed to breaking point. This is far less likely to happen if we can flatten the curve, we may still reach high levels of total number of individuals infected but by spreading these cases over time we will be far better equipped to handle them. The graph from the CDC demonstrates how we can ensure medical resources will remain sufficient if we can prevent simultaneous infection of large numbers of society.

“The only thing that should “go viral” right now is social media imploring people to take this pandemic seriously and follow the advice in this posting.”

We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Utz and the other researchers that are working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the American public and the collective global citizenry.

To read the full community letter sent by Dr. Utz please go to:



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Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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