Health officials meet with community leaders to discuss Coronavirus

Sunday, March 15, 2020
GCHD Board President Dr. Pete Powers addresses guests at Friday’s meeting.
By Sabrina Stockrahm

The Greene County Health Department hosted an informational meeting for community leaders in regard to the concerns surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Representatives from local city, town and county government, in addition to individuals from Greene County General Hospital, schools, daycares and churches, heard a presentation from GCHD Board President Dr. Pete Powers, GCHD Environmental Specialist Shari Lewis and Public Health Nurse Stacy Fonderhide.

Dr. Powers led the presentation, starting with an overview of the Novel Coronavirus and how to protect individuals these leaders represent.

He started by explaining that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. But, Dr. Powers noted, the severe complications from the virus include pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and death.

“It’s typically milder the first week, then about day eight, the patient can get much sicker,” Powers explained, noting individuals over the age of 60 are at a greater risk. The average age of fatal cases were around 80-years-old, he added.

“We can provide supportive treatment, but antibiotics and Tamiflu don’t help. The only reason we would give antibiotics in these cases is to prevent a secondary infection. Currently in Indiana, there are 12 positive cases. Two are hospitalized and the other 10 are at home, which is the best place to be if the symptoms aren’t critical.”

While there are currently only 12 confirmed cases, Powers said as of Friday night’s presentation, there were another 64 people in Indiana under investigation who are quarantined at home.

If exhibiting symptoms, Powers said the Centers for Disease Control encourages individuals to self-quarantine for 14 days, which is the incubation period for COVID-19.

“One person can infect hundreds,” Dr. Powers noted.

Some suggestions to protect yourselves and others include “social distancing,” which includes staying at least six feet away from individuals at all times. Also, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap on a regular basis. Or, if hand-washing isn’t available, use hand sanitizer that is at lease 60 percent alcohol. Avoid handshaking and try not to touch your face. It’s also important to sanitize frequently-touched surfaces, such as computer accessories, door knobs, elevator buttons and more.

One of the individuals in attendance asked what the difference is between this new Coronavirus and “just the flu.”

“The death rate,” Dr. Powers said. He cited a death rate of .1 percent from influenza, yet the current COVID-19 data shows a mortality rate of 2 to 3.4 percent.

“Also, the transmission of this disease is much faster. We think the numbers are actually much higher.”

Greene County General Hospital CEO Brenda Reetz said with influenza, they rely heavily on herd immunity through the flu vaccine.

“With this, there is no herd immunity,” Reetz explained.

They explained that while some people may not show any symptoms, and some will experience mild flu-like symptoms, the goal is to keep the virus contained as much as possible to protect the elderly and immune-compromised who could potentially die from complications.

Powers also explained this virus has the added issue that many people can carry it without showing symptoms. In the past with cases like Ebola, the carrier showed symptoms pretty quickly, but with this, someone can carry around this virus that could have a major impact on certain demographics of the community.

They are also facing the issue of the lack of readily-available testing for the virus.

“There are likely a lot of people who haven’t been tested. There have been cases where doctors have tried to get people screened but the ISDH said they are not high enough risk,” Power explained.

Reetz said it often takes upwards of three years to get proper testing created and approved by the FDA, and this has moved rapidly just since November.

“The goal is to slow the spread so our resources can handle the volume of patients this will create,” Reetz said.

The hospital CEO said they are already seeing issues with some of their needed Personal Protect Equipment (PPE) such as face masks.

“PPE reservation is going to be critical,” Reetz said, noting they are already experiencing canceled shipments for some of those supplies.

Masks need to be reserved for those who are sick to protect the people around them, as well as first responders and medical personnel treating those who are ill.

Reetz explained the hospital is working to ensure they are ready to treat COVID-19 cases in Greene County. They have set up an incident command center for those who are presenting with symptoms. There is an external triage area and a call center at the hospital to address concerns about seeking treatment.

“Some people are calling ISDH and getting put on hold for hours,” Reetz said, noting the local call center at the hospital will be able to address individuals more quickly.

“We are preparing for an influx of patients.”

She urged individuals who are exhibiting symptoms to call the hospital before going so staff can meet them in their car instead of potentially infecting others in the hospital.

Reetz said Greene County General Hospital is also screening its staff and discouraging spring break travel. Any employee who travels more than 100 miles outside Linton is required to be screened by their employee health nurse. All work travel has also been suspended.

When asked if GCGH is able to perform COVID-19 tests at their hospital, Reetz said their first step is to contact ISDH, who has a rigorous list of guidelines to follow before allowing testing due to the limited number of tests. GCGH is able to test on-site, with a limited number of tests, but those have to be shipped off to North Carolina to get results – creating a roughly 7-day wait for results.

Sheriff Mike Hasler reported that dispatchers have a list of questions to ask those who call 911 regarding these symptoms to provide information to the first responders. But, it is up to the caller to provide detailed information.

Lewis urged residents to seek information from legitimate sources, such as the ISDH. You can go online and request daily email updates from the state health department. They stressed information regarding COVID-19 is changing on an hourly basis.

“We need to make sure we protect the elderly and those who are immune-compromised. We need to do what we can to protect others,” Lewis stressed.

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