The Courier spoke via email with Dr. Joseph Havlik, a Wellstar Health System infectious disease expert and longtime musician, about what advice he’d give music lovers planning to go to Midtown Music this weekend.
Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Wellstar Health System.
I have been an infectious disease specialist with Wellstar Health System since 1992, servicing Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Wellstar Cobb Hospital, and Wellstar Paulding Hospital. I completed my residency and fellowship in internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and have been practicing medicine in the greater Atlanta area for more than 35 years. On a day-to-day basis, I diagnose and treat patients with a broad array of illnesses such as the flu and pneumonia, but most recently, my focus has been on the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, I have served on Wellstar’s COVID-19 Response team, working to determine best practices and procedures for keeping our patients and staff safe.
I understand you’re a musician, too. Tell us a bit about that.
I like to think of myself as an infectious disease expert by day and a musician by night. Over the years, I have found that these two parts of my life are in perfect harmony because I believe that music is medicine, and my bandmates feel the same way. I am a member of the PARADOCS, a group that I founded with my friend and Wellstar pediatrician, Larry Clements. The band is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We quickly found out that quite a few of our colleagues and other healthcare professionals were equally as passionate about music and medicine, so our band is completely comprised of Wellstar medical personnel and physicians. We have performed all around the metropolitan Atlanta area for twenty-five years. We put on concerts, play private parties, fundraisers, and other events.
Midtown Music is approaching. What advice would you give to people who plan on attending?
As a musician and music enthusiast, I understand and empathize with the desire to see (and play) live music. However, as a doctor and especially as an infectious disease specialist, I would not recommend attending an event of this magnitude based on our community’s high level of coronavirus transmission.
That being said, we know people will attend, so I cannot stress the importance of following safety protocols to help limit exposure and further transmission of the virus. The festival has taken a step in the right direction by limiting attendance to only those who are vaccinated or have had a negative test within 72 hours of the event. However, there will still be thousands of people congregated together in a relatively small area. I encourage everyone planning to attend to mask up. Vaccinated or not, wearing a mask is an important and effective way to protect yourself and others from the virus. I’d also recommend avoiding congested areas like the pit. Piedmont Park has a lot of wide-open space, so bring a blanket and enjoy the music from a distance with your trusted, and hopefully vaccinated, circle of friends or family. Lastly, bring and frequently use hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and a reusable water bottle to avoid spreading germs.
What about other large-crowd events. What’s the best general advice you can give people?
Unfortunately, due to the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, my recommendation is to avoid attending large events. If you do plan to attend a large, crowded event, the best protection we all have against COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated and consistently practice the “3 Ws” safety measures – wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.
As an infectious disease specialist, what are you seeing on the ground in the hospitals and emergency rooms right now?
Wellstar Health System has been experiencing a surge in patient volume across our Emergency Departments (EDs) and hospitals of adults and children with COVID symptoms and diagnoses. As of 9/17, eighty-eight percent of COVID patients hospitalized at Wellstar are unvaccinated, which mirrors what we are seeing across the state and nation. As hospitals across metro Atlanta experience higher volume with more intense patient care for severe illness, we are seeing much younger patients, including teens, young adults, and children, most of whom are unvaccinated. It’s heartbreaking to see a college student with their whole life before them on a vent in the ICU. The current vaccines are safe and highly effective and can prevent serious illness and hospitalization in most cases. I encourage everyone to find ways to have fun and nurture your well-being while also protecting your health and your future.