Coronavirus Q&A #3

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The HT hosted a third livestream with RBC Public Health Director Alice Harvey Friday, June 5. Here is a discussion synopsis. You can find the full video on our Facebook page and YouTube channel, or scan the Zapcode to access it from the print edition.

2ND COUNTY VARIANCE

Rio Blanco County recently received a second variance request allowing for local summer events with precautions in place. 

“In a nutshell, we are different than other counties. Overall, the idea behind the second request was hoping to be able to host local events here … in a modified fashion due to our small community,” Harvey stated.

Summer is not going to be normal, “but we definitely feel like we can do this safely if we’re smart.”

You can find details and recommendations related to both public (i.e. rodeos) and private (i.e. weddings, funerals and parties) summer events at https://rbc.us/592/Coronavirus-Update.

On the business side, “in terms of businesses, everything is changing so quickly on the state level, so it’s hard to keep track,” Harvey said. “Overall, it’s good news.” Most sectors are already or will be able to partially open with precautions in place.

‘NORMAL’

Things are still not ‘normal’, but are precautions still needed, and are the recommendations the same?

According to Harvey, mostly yes. “We’re definitely not out of the woods. It’s not going away anytime soon. We’ve done a really good job at practicing these recommendations, but this summer will bring new challenges that we didn’t have this winter.”

“It wouldn’t be wise to think we’re immune or that it’s over,” Harvey stated.

Being careful and taking precautions will help reduce risk. Increased summer travel and activities, and the inevitable interaction that goes along with them, will likely set off a second wave this fall. All current models show a spike at the end of the summer, but the trigger point will again be available ICU beds and/or ventilators. Those numbers will determine what level of stay at home or safer at home measures are needed.

In Rio Blanco County, the number to watch for would be seven new cases within one week.

TESTING

So far, about 170 people county-wide have tested negative, with a single positive case in April. That’s about 2.7% of the population.

“We currently do have the capacity to do community testing for anyone who is symptomatic and also, should we have an outbreak, we do have the capacity to test asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed.”

The testing piece, especially of asymptomatic individuals who are identified by contact tracing, is an important component for planning and approving summer events. Current evidence suggests one out of four people may have the virus and spread it to others without ever experiencing symptoms.

Testing capacity will continue to be expanded locally and at the state level.

Antibody tests, which detect COVID-19 antibodies only after you’ve recovered from the infection, are in the works, but “there’s still a lot up in the air,”  according to Harvey. “We don’t know for sure at this point if a positive antibody test means you have immunity and/or for how long.” The other issue? Accuracy. “The range really just kind of depends on the test itself. I’ve seen as low as 50% accuracy.” You can always get the test through your physician if you’re certain you’ve had the virus already. This will  help with research, but it doesn’t mean you’re free and clear to cough on people at whim.

MASK ON, MASK OFF

From the very beginning, the information that went out to the public about wearing masks has been confusing and contradictory, and various forms of misinformation have begun to circulate. Harvey calls it, “information overload,” but in reality, it’s not that confusing. “Wearing a covering over your face, doesn’t matter what it is, helps to protect other people from getting the virus if you’re wearing it appropriately.”

“Wearing a covering over your face, doesn’t matter what it is, helps to protect other people from getting the virus if you’re wearing it appropriately.”

RBC Public Health Director Alice Harvey

It boils down to this — the COVID-19 virus is spread via respiratory droplets that exit a person’s mouth and nose as they breath, cough, sneeze or speak. A face covering helps to keep those respiratory droplets, especially the larger ones, confined to a smaller area, cutting short the virus’s access to its next host.

“Are they perfect? No. Absolutely not. You’re just giving the people around you a better chance at not getting your respiratory droplets and breathing them in,” Harvey said. “That’s why we suggest that you wear them as much as you possibly can when you’re going to be in a situation around other people.”

Can a mask cause oxygen deprivation? No. However, if you have an underlying respiratory condition, don’t wear a mask if it’s causes a high level of discomfort.

What about if you’re outside, say at a parade or a rodeo? “The general take-home point for all of these summer events – as long as you can maintain the (social) distance, then it’s not going to be as important to wear the mask. However, if you’re planning for example to look at something from a vendor, you’re planning on meeting friends, you’re going in and out of businesses, those are the situations when you really need to be wearing a mask.”

SUMMER SAFETY

So, you’re a responsible adult. You don’t want to put others at risk. You’re on board with the idea of personal responsibility.

You also don’t want to sit in your home for the next six months, one year, two years. What’s a person to do?

“This is touching every area of life and we are all feeling that so acutely right now. In general, my recommendation is to just think about the environment [you’ll be in],” Harvey stated. 

Other recommendations for a safe summer include:

  • Avoiding large parties and get-togethers, especially indoors — any activity where you can’t control how close people are to you
  • Avoid travel to congested and highly populated areas
  • Avoid travel on public transportation, if possible

HOME REMEDIES

Ozonated water? Iodine?  Calcium? Vitamin K? What kind of home remedies might be effective?

“There are no FDA-approved drugs yet for the treatment of COVID. There’s a variety of supplements, things we can do, homeopathic things we can do to improve our health outcomes, but they’re not necessarily intended to be taken as a curative measure. Nothing has been found yet to have a significant effect,” Harvey stated. She also cautioned some home remedies may do more harm than good.

IN CONCLUSION

“I’ve just been so impressed with how dedicated these groups are to making this work. We haven’t told people ‘no, no, no.’ These groups are making these decisions themselves based on what they are willing and not willing to do in terms of posing a risk to the community. Just know that you’ll see these activities happening and we encourage people to enjoy them, but just be smart.

If we’re all smart about it, we’re gonna be OK.”