Local health care experts assured Covington County residents that there are coronavirus tests available locally, and, as of noon on Friday, there were no known cases locally as part of a Covington County Coronavirus Forum that aired on the local cable access channel, on WAAO, and on Facebook Live.
The event was broadcast from First Baptist Andalusia with Kevin Wilburn, pastor, moderating. The panel included Andalusia Health CEO Clint Kendall, Dr. Charles Eldridge, Covington County Commission Chairman Greg White and Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson.
A video of that event is available on the City of Andalusia’s website and Facebook page, and the Facebook Live event can be viewed on the First Baptist Church Andalusia page. A transcript of the healthcare questions follows. The answers have been edited only for clarity.
WILBURN: Do we have tests in Covington County?
KENDALL: Yes. This is one of the biggest topics we hear. We are able to test at Andalusia Health. We have all of the equipment and everything that we need. We have support from the state, and the Alabama Department of Health is providing us tests, and getting our tests back to us.
We test by the CDC standards, though. People are hearing what they want to hear when they hear the news, that everybody can be tested.
Truthfully, it is about getting the high risk tested; those who are the most critical, or those who already have symptoms of the COVID virus. It will be fever, cough, and flu-like symptoms. So, the biggest one of those is fever: Viral shedding starts with fever.
So if you come out and ask for a test, or you come to our emergency room, don’t be surprised if you aren’t getting the test. We will provide the medical screening. We’ll go through everything else. We’ll do flu swab first, just to make sure it’s not the flu. We’ll start eliminating the simplest things, and then we’ll work toward COVID.
During this time, we’ll be taking medical precautions. We’ll give you a mask when you walk in the door. If you haven’t been by lately, it looks like you’re walking in the jail or the county courthouse. We have our guards up, we’ll be checking your fever, and you don’t go past go without any of that. If you come in with a fever, we’ll know right away, and we’ll get a mask on you.
WILBURN: What is this hotline number?
KENDALL: As a community, it was discussed that we really don’t have access to get questions answered, and people are seeking answers where they may not always find the most truthful one. We needed a place get the truth, to get questions answered, to ease some of the anxieties.
This number, which is 334-658-4478, It is going to be manned by Andalusia Health staff 24/7. We will get your questions answers. If you need health care, or have symptoms, we will get you to the proper physicians or into Emergency Department.
WILBURN: If someone is tested, how long does it take to receive those test results?
KENDALL: At the present time, we’re being told by the health department, it’s 2 to 4 days. We’re really looking at the 4-day mark at the present time, with more people being tested in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Public Health is ramping up their staff to test more.
WILBURN: Why, if we have tests, why are we not testing everyone who wants to be tested?
KENDALL: Because everyone doesn’t need a test. The DC Guidelines state that high-risk individuals, and those that are experience symptoms, that meet criteria of having travelled to infected areas, should be tested. If we really need to test, we want to have that test for our community.
WILBURN: How many ventilators do we have at AH?
KENDALL: Great question. We have been preparing for this for a good while. We have it on the radar, and have been collecting materials so that we are prepared. We have the ventilators we needed for the critically ill. Not every patient will need a vent or get one. We have an ample supply, and we also have some back-up equipment our facility. With our operating rooms not doing elective procedures, we have some anesthesia machines we can bring over.
Dr. Eldridge: (Opening comments)
Everyone has been inundated with information about the current crisis with corona virus, so I wanted to give a synopsis about the disease.
There are a lot of unknowns about this particular virus.
This is a corona virus. It is a virus that affects our respiratory system. It’s not a GI virus, not a virus that causes muscular cramps and aches and pains like the influenza virus does. It causes respiratory symptoms, congestion, cough, shortness of breath, and fever.
This is a family of viruses that has been around a long time, and we have experience with them from the past.
There are some people who are at high risk for disease, and they are the people who need to heed most of the warnings and be more cautious about contracting the illness. This particular virus seems to have more virulence as you age. The vast majority of the mortality, worldwide - and there’s been over a quarter million cases worldwide of this virus, to this point - has been in people 70 years old or older. Those are the people who need first and foremost, to be very careful.
There are other people who are on immune suppressant drugs. People who are being treated for conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma. People who are taking biological medicines that suppress your immune system. Those people are at risk. People who are pregnant, because of alterations in your immune system that are associated with pregnancy, are at increased risk. People who have diseases of the respiratory tract like asthma and COPD, are at greater risk.
And particularly, based on the Italian numbers, people who smoke cigarettes are at greater risk. We initially thought it had a predilection for men. As it turned out, it was because more men smoked in the Italian study, it affected them more. It’s not a gender question, it’s a question of health risk.
There are some things that we need to know about where we stand.
As of this time, there are NO, NO confirmed cases of corona virus in Covington County. However, there are confirmed cases in Houston County, in Butler County, Montgomery County, Okaloosa County, Fla., Walton County, Fla., so you can see, we are surrounded by confirmed cases. So while we don’t have a confirmed case, we will. It’s almost a certainty that the virus, if it’s not here already, will be here. We have to be prepared for this virus, and we have to do the things that are necessary to protect ourselves from the virus.
The main thing that has been used to protect people in this particular situation is called social distancing. The infectious circumference around an infected person is about six feet. So the recommendation is that people stay as much as possible 6 feet apart from one another.
The other things is we need to avoid crowds. Try to stay in groups of 10 or less. We need to avoid skin-to-skin contact as much as possible. That is the reason there are recommendations against hugging and shaking hands. It will be good for our mental health when we can return to those activities. But for the present time, we’re going to have to verbalize our care and concern for people rather than demonstrating it physically.
We need to practice things my grandmother would have told me: Wash your hands. If you cough. If you sneeze. If you eat. If you go to the bathroom. If you have physical contact with someone that you think might have the virus, go wash your hands. If you’re not washing your hands seven to 10 times a day, you can almost be certain you’re not washing your hands enough.
I average washing my hands about 35 times a day. I understand that it’s different in medical office, but your hands won’t fall off if you wash them 35 times a day.
The other thing we need to do is realize we’re going to have family members, friends, and people we just casually run in to at the store that are stressed out. This is a stressful situation. Peoples’ lives have been disrupted. They’ve lost jobs, they’re concerned, they’re anxious.
Anxiety causes tension, which causes people to be at least cranky, at worst downright rude. So you remember, if you can, to be cooperative. To be kind. To be a part of their solution. Don’t be a part of their problem.
WILBURN: Are the symptoms in someone aged 10 to 18 the same as someone in their 70s?
DR. ELDRIDGE: Initially, the symptoms are exactly the same. You’re going to have congestion and cough. What will not happen in the younger people is a rapid progression to lower respiratory track disease. The likelihood of younger people of developing viral infiltration of their lungs, and shortness of breath, is much lower than a person that is older.
That doesn’t mean the young people are off the hook. They may not feel sick, but they can give it to their mother, their grandmother, or other people in their family that are loved ones.
So, while they may not be sick, they may be the vector that will infect other people who may become quite sick. So young people get no pass. They are involved, and the infectious rate is the same for them as for older people. The difference is severity. There’s been virtually no mortality in people under 20 years old. These people are going to do well with the virus, but that doesn’t decrease their danger to people who are at risk.
WILLBURN: How do you know the difference in sinus or allergies from all of the pollen, vs. I need to go to hospital and be tested?
DR. ELDRIDGE: It is an overlapping of symptoms with all of those things. You’ve going to have to differentiate with medical studies and medical examinations on people who demonstrate those symptoms. The main that that is particular with this virus is that fever is a constant. It may not be a high, 103, fever. It may be a low-grade fever that corresponds with the shedding of the virus. Whereas, if you’re just sneezing from pollen, you’re not going to be running fever. Coughing, congestion, shortness of breath, fever, are the four constant symptoms in coronavirus.
With a sinus infection, you’ll have a different type of secretion in the nose, you’re more likely to have a sore throat, and more likely to have pressure headaches. There are some positive findings on physical examinations and on x-rays for sinus infections that you will not have on coronavirus.