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News of Otsego County

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STERNBERG: From Russia, With Love
LETTER from RICHARD STERNBERG

From Russia, With Love

Richard Sternberg, retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, is providing his professional perspective weekly during the COVID-19
threat. A village trustee,
he resides in Cooperstown.

Unintentionally but inevitably, and catastrophically, the Russian National Figure Skating Team has carried out an experiment that lets the rest of the world see what happens when you expose super-elite athletes indiscriminately to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

While not immediately fatal, it is not pretty and suggests what the long-term consequences of contracting the disease may be for other young people.

According to the Dec. 17 edition of The Wall Street Journal, the Russian Women’s National Ice Skating team is regarded as the very best in the world and has such deep reserves of young talent that it was expected to remain the best indefinitely.

They are a very close group, literally and physically. The members of this group have pretty much disdained rules and recommendations regarding avoiding disease spread up to now.

There are social media posts of them partying without spacing or masks, posts of competition venues where very many coaches, athletes, spectators and officials are wearing their masks below their mouth or not at all, while athletes are withdrawing from the national championships because of positive tests or complications from recent positive infection.

2018 Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva is hospitalized with serious lung damage after testing positive in November.

European Champion Alena Kostornaia missed a competition earlier in December because of a positive test has not recovered sufficiently to compete according to officials.

The National Championship was won by Anna Shcerbakova a teenager. Scherbakova herself withdrew from a late November event citing “pneumonia.” She has now won the event three times but was noted to be having trouble breathing after her programs.

Other skaters performed well below expectation. Former world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva who was expected to finish better came in seventh. She had announced that she had tested positive. She was reported as looking sluggish and exhausted at the Nationals.

Many who did compete had been reported as having had the virus earlier in the season. Coaches, some of who are at high risk because of age alone, have reported positive and ill.

Up until now the Russian National Federation has progressed their season as if the virus didn’t exist. Any attempts at safety protocols seem to have been ignored.

So, what do we learn from this experiment? Young people do get the disease and, when they do, they may not die from it at the same rate as the elderly but they do have medical consequences, sometimes permanently.

Why do these symptoms seem so frequent in these Russian athletes while they have not been reported with the same frequency in our general public?

Part of the answer is that these people are under a publicity magnifying glass – when they can’t perform, it is noticed. The same is evident in our professional athletes.

These are also people who have trained to perform at the extreme limits of physiologic capability, who have increased their capacities beyond normal people and therefore any slight damage to their organs whether lungs, heart, muscle, etc., are readily noticed.

The same damage is most probably occurring in the average person, but the average person does not frequently try to perform at their extreme.

While some of the Russians (and others) will never perform at elite levels again, some will have long-term damage that will affect activities of daily living. Any damage in anyone will have long-term consequences that will have heretofore unknown effects on life expectancy and long-term impairment or disability.

To those who continue to underestimate this disease, stop it. Dying is not the only bad outcome of contracting COVID-19.

I said this in April and I say it again now. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Socially distant. Stay within your pod (and if any one member doesn’t, then you all aren’t). We are getting close to getting vaccinated. Don’t screw up now.

In the NFL the lowest of the low, the New York Jets, beat the previously postseason-bound Cleveland Browns. This gave the Jets a second win and seems to knock them out of the competition for worst record and therefore first pick in the draft, according to another article on the same Journal sports page.

How could this happen?

Well, the Browns lost all their first- and most of their second-string receivers due to contact-tracing protocols for COVID-19.

The fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars, formerly the next-to-worst team in the standings, were noted to be celebrating. Now they get to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

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