Fighting the Invisible Enemy

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By Stacy Sawyer, Director of Marketing and Communications at Hamilton Community Health Network

Today is Tuesday, March 17—St. Patrick’s Day. Any other year, many of us would be looking forward to some green beer and corned beef, but this year our focus isn’t on celebrating—it’s on fighting for our lives. I’m curious how the world is going to look by the time this article is published weeks from now. Will we be the new South Korea or Italy?

The world-wide Coronavirus pandemic is here in Michigan. Gov. Whitmer has closed all bars and restaurants. We can only meet in groups of 10 or less. Kids are home from school. Schools are delivering meals to their students. People are being told to stay home. Employment benefits and financial assistance are being decided in D.C.

None of us ever thought this day would be a reality. This is what sci-fi movies are made of—a crazy virus takes over the world, kills thousands, the country is on lockdown, and the health organizations are scrambling to save lives.

But it’s not a movie. This is real life.

Here at Hamilton Community Health Network, we’re doing all we can with what we have to be proactive and not let COVID-19 come into Genesee and Lapeer counties. But supplies are low—very low. We’re frustrated and disappointed that the country hadn’t prepared more for this. Maybe even a little disappointed in ourselves.

Our providers are getting ready to take this invisible enemy on, because we know it’s just a matter of time. You have to hand it to them, it’s not often you go to work knowing your own health hangs in the balance. But this is why being a doctor or nurse, or any healthcare worker, has a special calling. You take the oath to serve all and forsake your own health to help others. Thank God for these people.

Currently, we’re telling everyone to:

  • Wash your hands—20 seconds with soap, making sure you get your finger tips and tops of your hands, then rinse for 10 seconds.
  • If you have a cough, fever, sore throat, or have traveled in the last 30 days, call us before you enter our doors.
  • If you have a pre-existing condition, self-quarantine.

We’re also encouraging people to:

  • Stay home.
  • Clean and disinfect your house.
  • Disinfect your car.
  • When you get home—take your clothes off, wash them and get in the shower. Wash your hair.
  • Cancel travel plans.

“I hope two weeks from now, we can all say we over-reacted, because if people are saying that, then we did it right,” said Kimberly Warden, LPN, quality director at Hamilton. Kim has been leading the infectious disease and emergency preparedness team here with Dr. Michael Giacalone, Jr.. MD, who is also our medical director.

Together with our CEO Clarence Pierce and other leaders, we’re strategizing how to get the clinics prepared. Right now we’re brainstorming if we could test patients outside in our parking lots, instilling tele-health services, and waiting on the health department to tell us what supplies they have available for us.

What is COVID-19?

There’s significant misunderstanding when it comes to COVID-19. At first, we were told it was a type of flu. But it’s not. This is much more serious because it’s a virus that came from an animal that was transferred to a human. Normally, viruses would stop there but this one figured out how to spread from human to human; and because it’s not a human type of virus, we don’t have the natural ability to fight it off.

COVID-19 spreads between people who are in close contact (within about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Most people who get sick with COVID-19 will have only mild illness and should recover at home. There will be many of us carrying the virus but not having any signs or symptoms. However, symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

According to the CDC, emergency warning signs include*:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

What to do if you have symptoms:

Warden explained, if someone has symptoms, they need to call their doctor or healthcare provider. Don’t just stop in to see him or her. The clinic will need to prepare for your arrival if they want you to come in. However, many times you will be told to just stay home and isolate/quarantine yourself to protect others. The virus can be treated with over the counter flu and cold medication to manage symptoms.

“However, if you have underlying health conditions or pre-existing conditions that affect your immune system, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, COPD, diabetes, hypertension/high blood pressure, HIV, etc. you will want to inform your doctor immediately,” said Warden. “Then follow his or her directives. If you are told to come to the office or hospital, wear a mask. If you don’t have one, cover your mouth with something to keep your saliva and body fluids away from others.”

From the CDC:

If you have someone at home that becomes sick with COVID, the CDC recommends:

  • Have the person stay in one room, away from other people as much as possible.
  • If possible, have them use a separate bathroom.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items, like dishes, towels. and bedding.
  • If face masks are available, have them wear a facemask when they are around other people.
  • It the sick person can’t wear a face mask, you should wear one while in the same room with them, if face masks are available.
  • If the sick person needs to be around others (within the home, in a vehicle, or doctor’s office), they should wear a face mask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after interacting with the sick person. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Every day, clean all surfaces that are touched often, like counters, tabletops, and doorknobs.
  • Use household cleaning sprays or wipes according to the label instructions.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly.
  • If laundry is soiled, wear disposable gloves and keep the soiled items away from your body while laundering. Wash your hands immediately after removing gloves.
  • Avoid having any unnecessary visitors.

Provide symptom treatment

  • Make sure the sick person drinks a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and rests at home.
  • Over-the-counter medicines may help with symptoms.
  • For most people, symptoms last a few days and get better after a week.

When to end home isolation (staying home)

  • People with COVID-19 who have stayed home (isolated) can stop home isolation under the following conditions:
    • If they will not have a test to determine if they are still contagious, they can leave home after these three things have happened:
      • They have had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
        AND
      • other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)
        AND
      • at least seven days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.
    • If they will be tested, to determine if they are still contagious, they can leave home after these three things have happened:
      • They no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
        AND
      • other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)
        AND
      • They received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart. Their doctor will follow CDC guidelines.

Today is Saturday, March 21, and we are now at 549 infected and eight deaths in Michigan. Keep in mind that on March 17, we had 60 cases and zero deaths. I worry what the numbers are going to be by the time this article is printed.

Take care of your loved ones. Stay home. Wash your hands. If you have signs of COVID-19, call your doctor. He/she will let you know your next steps.

May we all look back at this as the time we all came together and won against an invisible enemy…when we cared for one another, looked out for our neighbor, and put others first. May we look back at this, as the time we learned how important we all are, regardless of our differences.

For more information, Hamilton can be reached at 810-406-4246, on Facebook, or at www.HamiltonCHN.org.

Advisement

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