Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Public Health Officer Urges Vigilance to 'Improve our Odds'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 7:37 AM

Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich stressed the importance of social distancing and sheltering in place in a video sent to local media Monday afternoon, even as the county Public Health lab reported no new cases of the COVID-19 virus.

“The whole point of us all making this sacrifice is it improves our odds,” Frankovich said. “It’s critically important that people adhere to social distancing.”

click to enlarge JONATHAN WEBSTER
  • Jonathan Webster
The Public Health lab reported late yesterday afternoon that it had processed seven additional tests since Saturday and none came back positive. To date, the department has released the results of 116 tests — 110 run in-house at the lab and six run by the CDC. Of those, two have come back positive: one last month of a resident who had traveled to China and has since recovered and the other Friday in a resident who had recently traveled to a “high-risk” country.

An unknown number of tests have also been sent out of the area to corporate laboratories — LabCorp and Quest — but the results of those tests have not been made publicly available. Frankovich has said her department will release those results when it receives them, but she doesn’t know when that will be.

“I’m hopeful that we very shortly will be able to present commercial lab testing results daily,” she said Monday.

Frankovich said the second positive patient is doing “well.” Speaking generally, she said that after a positive test public health staff will work to trace the patient’s known contacts to advise them they may have been exposed to the virus and put them in quarantine.

“Obviously, we are not in a time of rampant community transmission,” she said. “Identifying close contacts, notifying them and having those individuals quarantined while they monitor for symptoms. At some point when this infection is widespread, that information is no longer very useful for us. However, right now it is.”

As to how widespread the virus is locally, it’s unknown due to the low number of tests and the fact that some people can carry and spread the coronavirus without having symptoms. Frankovich explained that Public Health is triaging testing to make sure it uses the almost 400 tests it has on hand to test the most vulnerable, those at highest risk and those who’s infection could have the greatest impact. For example, people who have a known contact with a positive case and are symptomatic, those with both symptoms and underlying health issues and those at risk of spreading the disease widely or to a vulnerable population, like healthcare workers or long-term care residents.

Frankovich urged anyone experiencing mild symptoms — including fever, cough, shortness of breath, runny nose — to self isolate until three days after all symptoms subside or seven days after their first onset, whichever is longer. They should not call their health care provider or seek testing, she said, unless they have underlying health issues or the symptoms are more severe. Even once testing is more widely available, Frankovich said the county will still urge "mildly ill" people to stay at home in an effort to conserve medical resources and protect healthcare workers.

While Frankovich said that while only two of 116 tests coming back positive is an “encouraging” sign, it’s simply unknown how prevalent the virus is locally.

“The only way we would know for certain is if we can test everyone at a single point in time,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s nowhere near a possibility.”

And that makes social distancing and following the provisions of the count’s shelter-in-place order even more vital.

“Part of the reason the social distancing is so important right now is because if there are low levels of circulating virus, the hope is to keep that from expanding throughout the community,” she said. “This is a pivotal time to do that.”

Statewide as of Monday afternoon, 1,733 cases had been confirmed, with 27 deaths.

Basics of COVID-19 
The California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, state that symptoms of novel coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Emergency warning signs needing immediate medical attention include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to awaken and bluish lips or face.

In an emergency situation: Call ahead to the emergency room or inform the 911 operator of the possibility of a COVID-19 infection and, if possible, put on a face mask. 

St. Joseph and Redwood Memorial hospitals have opened tents on their campuses to begin screening patients who have “significant” symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 virus. The general hours of operation for the tents is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but that is subject to change.

Symptoms or possible exposure: In the case of a possible exposure with symptoms — fever and cough or shortness of breath — contact your doctor’s office or the county Department of Health and Human Services, which has a hotline that can be reached during business hours at [email protected] or at (707) 441-5000. Residents seeking medical advice or questions about testing are asked to contact Public Health at [email protected] or at (707) 445-6200. 

St. Joseph Health has also set up a virtual assessment tool as an aid to assess risk factors for contracting the illness, which can be found at www.providence.org/patients-and-visitors/coronavirus-advisory.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has started a rumor control webpage that can be found here.

For the Journal's latest COVID stories, updates and information resources, click here.
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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