Westmont Magazine An Infectious Disease Expert Spreads Credible Information

Dr. Ed Blews III ’03

During his fellowship in infectious diseases, Dr. Ed Blews III ’03 learned about the potential for a global pandemic. “But I never thought we’d have to navigate something like COVID-19,” he says. “It’s been a devastating time, but I believe we’ll emerge stronger as a country and a faith community and do a better job of supporting the people around us.”

A specialist in adult infectious diseases for Kaiser Permanente, Ed speaks out on media outlets to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. The Los Angeles Times quoted him in a January 10, 2022, story about the infectious Omicron variant. Noting the surging number of cases, he told the Times, “we are all beginning to look at processes and ways to continue to deliver healthcare in a safe fashion to the folks that need it while navigating high numbers of hospitalized patients.”

Ed helps release information on Kaiser’s social media channels through their social media team, and he speaks regularly with local television stations, newspapers and media. “I answer common questions and put a face and voice to the scientific community to provide information people can trust,” he says. “We do everything we can to get accurate messages out and be another reputable source. Social media has become such a pervasive influence that it’s hard to overcome misinformation.”

Ed says his LIBERAL ARTS background at Westmont helps him write emails and give oral presentations. “My education allows me to be a better physician and deal with all the thinking required in the past two years,” he says.

A pre-med student, he wanted to take classes outside the sciences. He worked closely with his professors to prepare for medical school while majoring in English. “I went on Europe Semester and studied Shakespeare, poetry and literature,” he says. “I played the trumpet in the jazz band and competed with the tennis team for a year. I loved being engaged with my professors and asking questions challenging preconceived notions about Christianity. Westmont laid a foundation for my life.”

Ed earned his medical degree at Loma Linda Medical School and completed a residency there combining internal medicine and pediatrics. His two-year fellowship at Harbor UCLA focused on adult infectious diseases. He returned to Loma Linda as attending physician in adult infectious diseases and associate medical director for hospital epidemiology. In 2016, he joined Kaiser.

Before COVID-19 monopolized his time, Ed consulted on infections ranging from bacterial to malarial to viral, including HIV. He balanced clinical duties with responsibility for infection control. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, he developed systems and protocols to protect providers and leaned on this experience during the pandemic.

Now regional physician director of infection prevention and control/hospital epidemiology at Kaiser, he wrote early protocols responding to COVID-19 and dealing with challenges like shortages of N95 masks and tests. “We quickly learned we faced a lot of challenges and had to make the least bad decisions,” he says. “By nature, I’m a perfectionist. But I had to do my best in unexpected and unforeseen historic circumstances.

“We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t and what’s safe. It was frustrating to see people die because we didn’t always know the right way to treat them. The pandemic has demonstrated the scientific method in real time and shown the importance of high quality clinical studies. Early on, a small study would indicate benefit from a medication that subsequent larger studies disproved. Through rigorous science, we now have effective, scientifically proven treatments available to both prevent and treat COVID-19.”

Ed seeks to listen carefully to patients and people with different beliefs. “I want to understand their concerns and motivations,” he says. “I need to develop trust with patients, and I often acknowledge my own personal concerns. For example, I was hesitant at first about the vaccines until I saw the data supporting their safety and effectiveness. I share that hesitation so patients feel comfortable asking me questions.

“I don’t feel bitterness about unvaccinated people, just deep sadness. Every unvaccinated patient who dies of COVID-19 is a tragedy. I started doing more media appearances to get more people vaccinated.”

How can people know what’s true about COVID-19? Consider the source of the information and the motivation of the people promoting it, Ed suggests. He notes that some podcasters and social media influencers seek clicks for financial gain. He looks for sites without an agenda, such as county public health websites, and recommends Medscape, which is peer-reviewed; the Mayo Clinic; Kaiser Permanente, UCLA and Loma Linda. “Their only motivation is providing accurate information,” he says. “And noth- ing beats a good conversation with your physician.”

Ed met his wife, Amber Hall Blews ’03, at Westmont, and they have three children, 11, 8 and 4. A communication studies major, she earned a Master in Education at the University of Redlands, a master’s in Christian leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and a master’s in psychology at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, where she completed a Doctor of Philosophy in clinical psychology. She serves as a clinical psychologist at Aspire Therapy Center in Claremont, where they live.