The Parke County health officer, acting in his private capacity or as an individual, took out a full-page ad in the Daily Clintonian, a newspaper headquartered in Clinton, to express his personal opinion that politicians should end social isolation due to COVID-19 and let people go back to work immediately.
"I hope our politicians will reconsider their mandate for social isolation and throwing working taxpayers out of work and destroying their businesses," Dr. Frank Swaim wrote in the full-page ad, which appeared in Tuesday's edition.
He said he was not acting in his capacity as Parke County's health officer.
The Clintonian ran a disclaimer on the front page stating that Swaim's ad "does not reflect the opinion of the Clintonian," said George B. "Sonny" Carey, publisher.
Swaim's views contradict information coming from state and national health authorities.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is considered by many to be the nation's top expert on infectious disease. He says social isolation and other suppression measures are vital to reducing the number of new coronavirus cases, or to "flatten the curve" of the pandemic's progress.
"The kinds of mitigation issues that are going on right now -- the things that we're seeing in this country, this physical separation at the same time as we're preventing an influx of cases coming in -- I think that's going to go a long way to preventing us from becoming an Italy," Fauci said Sunday on "Face the Nation."
Italy has experienced about 69,000 confirmed cases and 6,800 deaths.
Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, on Wednesday said the state’s hospitals had not yet experienced a surge of patients but are seeking additional sources of protective equipment for health care workers and monitoring intensive care unit bed and ventilator capacity.
“We’re still in the very early parts of this outbreak,” Box said. “We will continue to see more cases.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb urged all residents to take seriously his stay-at-home order that runs at least through April 6. Holcomb said any non-essential business shouldn’t be open in Indiana.
“We're trying to be as clear and blunt and serious about this as we can,” he said. “... We’re asking for citizens’ buy-in over the next two weeks.”
Dr. Richard Feldman, a former Indiana state health commissioner and a health columnist for several Indiana newspapers, including the Tribune-Star, called Swaim to task.
"He's the guardian of health in that county," said Feldman, state health commissioner from 1997 to 2001. He said Swaim's letter or ad that appeared in the Vermillion County publication "is absolutely irresponsible, uninformed and dangerous."
Feldman said he was shocked a physician would have such an opinion.
The new coronavirus COVID-19 "is roaring exponentially across America in an uncontrolled fashion," Feldman said. "People are dying and getting really sick and they have permanent lung damage if they survive. This is a very serious situation."
In the ad, Swaim lays out what he describes as "coronavirus facts" that he says are taken from a textbook on microbiology, medical journals and "authoritative national newspapers."
He makes his argument in 15 points, including, "Experts agree that respiratory viruses can be slowed but cannot be contained.
"We have always got and will always get seasonal respiratory infections. Are we going to close down the American economy and schools every year from January to May like the government is trying to do this year?" he wrote. "If we don't get back to work, we are going to have a financial disaster like we have never had before."
Swaim later stated of decisions by state and federal authorities, "We can understand their initial decision about social distancing, but with the facts we have now after much study, it is time to reverse the decision and get everybody out of home confinement and back to work, now, today, as soon as possible to avoid a financial and healthcare disaster."
In an interview, Swaim said he recognized the ad would cause controversy.
"Those are the facts," he said, referring to the points in his ad.
With the government's current response, including Indiana's stay-at-home order, "It's creating a lot of economic harm for these people and creating its own mental, physical and public health problems," Swaim said. The stay-at-home orders and social isolation "just can't go on and on. People have to work and make a living. They can't sit at home indefinitely."
He said he's concerned people may become desperate for income and unable to afford food or housing.
"I am upset about taking people out of their work ... and ruining their businesses and financial life," he said. "We need to think about economic health."
He also said, "We go through this every year. Every year we have infections and we've never isolated people before ... Why now?"
Swaim took out the ad "because I felt strongly about those facts. ...Everyone has a right to express their opinion."
Jim Meece, Parke County commissioner, said Swaim expressed his personal opinion.
"He was not representing anyone in any official capacity," the commissioner said. "He's not speaking for us."
Swaim was not telling anyone to go against the recommendations of federal or state government, he said.
Parke County commissioners will comply with recommendations of state and federal authorities and "hope it ends at a reasonable time," Meece said. Parke officials are preparing in the event COVID-19 cases are confirmed in Parke County.
Meece anticipated having a "conversation with him [Swaim] and his board" about whether Swaim was speaking on behalf of the board.
Meece said he disagrees with Swaim's position that social isolation should end now. State and federal health officials say the numbers of infected people continue to spike upward, and Indiana's confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 continue to increase.
"I don't think we have the facts in hand to make a decision to stop what we are doing," Meece said.
Meece said he did not foresee any consequences for Swaim.
"I don't think he's done anything other than express his personal opinion," Meece said.
Dr. Feldman said if the U.S. "doesn't get a handle on this virus and the morbidity and mortality it is causing, it will make our economic situation much worse in the long run."
For Dr. Swaim "to value the economic burden this is causing America above the health concerns is absolutely astonishing," Feldman said. "The economy will always return, but life lost is not going to return."
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.
Tom Davies of the Associated Press also contributed to this report.