The Observer quotes Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, Presbyterian Healthcare Services chief patient safety officer, as saying, “COVID-19 is not this immensely dangerous infection … so people really need to be protecting themselves against the flu and knowing those same measures protect them against COVID-19.”

For starters, the one thing certain about this virus is how little we yet know about it. We do know, though, that COVID-19 is a new virus, meaning, unlike the flu, no one has developed immunity to it, widespread testing is not available, and there is no vaccine available to minimize its effects.

One might also note that no country has effectively closed its borders or shut down most of its economy because of the flu, as has already occurred with COVID-19.

Though we are far from certain, so far it appears that the mortality rate is around 2 percent. Even if it is half that, 1 percent, it is still an order of magnitude greater than that of influenza.

For the elderly, the fatality rate appears to be somewhere around eight times as great as for younger adults. If 10 percent of Rio Rancho residents acquire COVID-19 (10,000 people), and the cumulative fatality rate is 1 percent, that yields 100 deaths in our community. That is on top of deaths caused by influenza.

Salvon-Harman and, thus, Presbyterian Health Services, have absolutely no credibility regarding COVID-19. Given their out-sized role in our community’s health care, responsible community leaders need to develop a plan to hold PHS accountable for both their words and deeds.

One thing important to note: The current pandemic is more a public health than a medical problem. Therefore, we should be listening to people whose expertise is in public health.

Such people may or may not be doctors. Conversely, doctors may have little experience with public health.

I would also note that the headline, “RR, NM ready in case of coronavirus; doctors say virus rarely serious,” is not supported by the article itself. “Doctors” do not say the virus is rarely serious. Only Salvon-Harman says that.

Asher Zelig

Rio Rancho

Editor’s note: The Observer stands by its reporting and headline in this matter.