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Testimony: Address Underlying Conditions That Make COVID-19 Deadly

Neal Barnard, MD, FACC

Physicians Committee President, Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC, testified on behalf of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, calling on the D.C. Committee on Health to address the underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 deadly.  Here is his testimony:

“Thank you very much for allowing me to provide this testimony today. As of October 25, 2020, as you mentioned, 642 Washingtonians have been killed by COVID-19, and regrettably, many more deaths are likely in the coming months. To reduce this toll, we must reduce the risk of infection through the use of masks, good hygiene, and social distancing, and provide the best possible medical care for those who are infected. And I want to compliment the government of the District of Columbia for giving appropriate attention to these areas. 

We must also reduce the risk of dying of an infection by addressing the underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 particularly deadly. These must be treated as the urgent issues that indeed they are. 

This is not news. When the virus emerged in China, the COVID-19 in-hospital death rate was 11% for individuals with poorly controlled diabetes. When diabetes was well controlled, that figure was slashed to 1%. Obesity, hypertension, and other conditions have also clearly emerged as factors that turn COVID-19 into a predictable killer.  

The D.C. government must ensure that Washingtonians have access to basic information about how to bring these conditions under control. Take type 2 diabetes, for example. Many people mistakenly imagine the disease is caused by eating sugar, despite the efforts of the American Diabetes Association and others to counter this simplistic myth, and the disease is treated as an inevitable part of life. But the fact is that type 2 diabetes starts as insulin resistance, which is caused by the build-up of fat particles in muscle and liver cells, and changes in diet, exercise, and, when necessary, medications can turn this disease process around in a matter of days or weeks. 

Similarly, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Trial showed that simple diet changes—increasing vegetables and fruits and reducing meat and fat—along with regular exercise can reduce blood pressure in as little as two weeks. It is also essential that lapsed or out-of-date prescriptions be brought up to date. 

The virus is here. Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity make it a killer. We cannot simply leave our population vulnerable. 

The D.C government is not alone in neglecting the underlying medical conditions that make COVID-19 deadly. The White House Coronavirus Task Force includes experts in infectious disease, but none in diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic medical conditions. We ask that the D.C. government not use the current federal administration’s neglect of underlying medical conditions as its model for handling this pandemic. 

Let us get simple, credible information out to every Washingtonian about how to tackle these underlying conditions as a matter of urgency. Let us put it on the D.C. government’s website. Let’s ask our media, our community leaders, our schools, and our places of worship to share this information with the same vigor that they now dedicate to promoting masks. 

The Medical Society of the District of Columbia is ready to provide this information for you, and we are eager to work together to save lives.” 

Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC

Testimony: Address Underlying Conditions That Makes COVID-19 Deadly

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