Taking on any new job during the pandemic would be challenging.
Now take on the job of county medical director during the pandemic.
And as you’re still finding your way around the building, other U.P. districts call and want you to be their medical director too.
Such is the life of Dr. Robert Lorinser, the new medical director for Marquette County, as well as the Western U.P. Health Department, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, and Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties.
While he’s new to the job, he’s not new to the area. He previously practiced medicine in Marquette, but he just recently repatriated after having spent more than a decade traveling the world with his wife Peggy, providing healthcare in some of the world’s most challenging areas, working for the U.S. State Department as a Regional Medical Officer with the Foreign Service.
Though he’s a little busy these days, he took the time to answer some questions for Word on the Street. I think you’ll find him a doctor who doesn’t talk over your head, and though he’s adamantly data driven, he employs a healthy dose of common sense.
So here’s a little Q&A with the new Marquette County Medical Director, Dr. Bob Lorinser.
Word on the Street – By now, we’re all pretty familiar with the nuts and bolts of COVID-19, but it’s always nice to hear from our local doc. What does our new medical director encourage Marquette County residents to do in order to deal with this pandemic?
Dr. Lorinser – First: don’t give up… the cavalry is coming in the COVID vaccine. Second: We understand you are tired, fatigued, and upset, but we can do it! Third: Trust the experts and the science but hold us accountable. Fourth: Mask, social distance, and hand hygiene. It’s simple… people spread this virus and unfortunately probably 1/100 are infectious at this time and half are completely asymptomatic. Statistically, if there are ten people together then there is a 40-80 percent chance someone is COVID positive. Fifth: Smile, since without it the battle is much harder.
(WOTS note… The source of Dr. Lorinser’s statistical analysis is the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which is the product of a collaborative project inspired by Joshua Weitz of the Georgia Institute of Technology.)
WOTS – Why did you want to take on the job of county medical director?
DL – A sense of service. There was a community need. I think I have the experience, knowledge, skill, and desire to help my community, my home, my friends, my family.
WOTS – Does a county medical director have any authority to impose restrictions?
DL – I have NO authority but much responsibility. I counsel the health officers who are the public leader leaders. I provide subject matter expertise. I work as part of a team.
WOTS – How do you think Governor Whitmer has done imposing restrictions in Michigan while keeping in mind a concern for the economy?
DL – It’s a delicate balancing act between social disruption and economics and the ravages of COVID. What is the correct balance and how it is obtained is the art guided by the science and the ever- changing data we have. The governor, in consultation with experts from all fields (not just public health but businesses, schools, lay personnel and many more) is and will do what she knows as the current best course of action.
WOTS – What do you think of the current restrictions coming out of Lansing?
DL – I appreciate the public health efforts of our state experts. All state leaders, hopefully, are trying to do the “right thing” aren’t they? Do we always get it correct? Probably not. Will all of us agree? Probably not. I believe there is general national guidance we can all follow, and then local data should guide additional measures. Mask wearing and social distancing would be national, school decisions regarding in-person or virtual learning probably should be local. State guidance is in the middle and as a middle child myself I know it is a difficult place to be.
WOTS – Events are such a big part of life here. What do you think the chances are that we’ll be able to return to those events sometime in the near future?
DL – Some say we are in the third wave, which is interesting and poorly understood as to why that happens, but it does. The virus will tell us when we can relax our COVID restrictions. If my magic ball is correct (and most aren’t) and I am asked to predict the future I can say with certainty “I don’t know.” I hope the third wave is not too bad before the vaccine becomes generally available. I am cautiously optimist and I am planning a March trip to Cancun, but I totally understand that it may not happen
WOTS – Along those lines, we’ve already cancelled some 2021 events, like the Sled Dog Race. How optimistic are you that we might be able to have events next summer?
DL – Feeling good, but I need to ask my colleagues, ‘Mr. and Mrs. COVID’ what they think, along with my friend ‘COVID Vaccine’.
WOTS – Assuming the COVID-19 pandemic is probably your top concern, what other health issues do you see as being important to Marquette County?
DL – There are many and we can’t neglect them either. Public health works behind the scenes and many may not know what we do. Personally I think our nation has neglected the value of public health for years.
(WOTS note… Dr. Lorinser cited a long list of things the county health department tends to, as well as their mission and vision statements. For more information on what the health department does, visit the county website at www.co.marquette.mi.us.)
WOTS – You’ve taken on the position of medical director for three additional areas. What kind of challenge will it present to have those additional responsibilities?
DL – Most of what I am doing is related to the COVID pandemic and as stated it doesn’t care what county or public health department you are working for or what board of health you report to.
WOTS – What are your thoughts on the news that a vaccine may be ready by the end of the year, or at least sometime in early 2021?
DL – Vaccine discussion is worthy of another discussion.
(WOTS note… we may take him up on that)
WOTS – How has your experience as a doctor in foreign lands helped prepare you to be a county medical director?
DL – The view is different but the mission is the same. My basic approach hasn’t changed because my goal is the same… remember to smile and live as long as you can. Chatting with presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors, managers, patients, health department staff and board members I do the same. Speak honestly, provide guidance, listen and learn. Sometimes there are tense moments, but most of the time not.
WOTS – Can you update us on your international experience?
DL – Over the last ten years, Peggy and I have seen and traveled much. We have lived in five different countries, but traveled to as many as 40.
WOTS – What stands out?
DL – Our experiences changed our lives… visiting rural remote villages and interacting with children who we thought never saw a white person or a camera, DMZ visits in South Korea with high-ranking government officials from multiple countries, providing charity medical care with international partners for people who had been lined up for days.
WOTS – Final thoughts?
DL – From working the last ten years at a federal level and many years before that as Dr. Welby (if anyone remembers that TV show) as a practicing physician the goal is the same– help you live with a smile as long as you can. It is my simple way of understanding my role for the 37 years of practicing medicine. Did I say that? I’m still young at heart!