Published on March 03, 2020

Regional residents react to coronavirus

Nurse holding mask

by Renee Beasley-Jones, Messenger-Inquirer

In recent days, news of the coronavirus in the U.S. spooked regional residents, causing face masks to fly off local store shelves.

On Monday morning, the Messenger-Inquirer contacted four local pharmacies, Lowe’s and Walmart in Beaver Dam. Of those, only Owensboro Family Pharmacy and Wellness had about 20 masks and was selling them two at a time.

The virus, also called COVID-19, started in the Hubei Province of China in December 2019. The respiratory virus has spread to 31 other countries.

That spread is driving the sale of face masks as residents seek protection. The New York Times recently reported that Surgeon General Jerome Adams has asked the public to stop buying masks because they do not prevent spread of the virus and hoarding can lead to shortages for health care workers.

Officials with Green River District Health Department and Owensboro Health report having plenty of face masks, gloves and gowns on hand.

“We have stockpiles,” said Clay Horton, public health director. “We’re in good shape ...”

The health department has some masks, gloves and gowns from the H1N1 pandemic that hit in 2009. They are past the “use-by” date; however, they have been stored in a controlled environment, Horton said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue guidance for using protective gear that has exceeded its used-by date.

Also, Horton said, the Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, a group that helps the region prepare for disasters, also owns a stockpile of personal protective equipment.

Face masks will not protect against COVID-19, said Dr. Francis DuFrayne, OH chief medical officer. The virus particles are so small they can infiltrate masks.

“The face mask is for the person who is infected,” DuFrayne said. It can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

People can protect themselves best by washing their hands frequently and well, not touching their faces and by practicing good respiratory hygiene, such as sneezing into a sleeve instead of bare hands. If someone sneezes into a tissue, it should be tossed immediately, and the person should wash his or her hands.

Anyone who is sick should stay home from work or school unless they need medical treatment. Even then, DuFrayne asks people with flu-like symptoms to call their physician and explain their symptoms before going to the office — a good practice for any infectious disease. It is best if patients with respiratory symptoms don’t sit in the general waiting room, where they can infect others.

DuFrayne said the three major symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

It is important not to panic, DuFrayne said.

COVID-19 is a very serious health concern, he said; however, few people in the U.S. have been infected to date. The CDC reported a total of 43 cases confirmed and presumptive cases Monday afternoon. Most are in major cities.

“Your chances of getting coronavirus right now are pretty slim,” DuFrayne said of people living in western Kentucky.

OH’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 Hospital Preparedness Team met Monday morning to discuss its strategy. The group of about 50 medical professionals started meeting about a month ago. From this point, the team will meet weekly at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays.

On Monday, the team reviewed the CDC’s hospital preparedness assessment tool. All departments in OH Regional Hospital, OH Muhlenberg Community Hospital and medical practices are asked to verify they are following federal guidelines.

“We take this very seriously,” DuFrayne said. “Any outbreak that will affect our patients or population we take seriously. We are very prepared.”

The health system has not treated or quarantined anyone yet, he said.

Horton said fewer than five people in the GRDHD service area have been self-quarantined and self-monitored because of travel or other circumstances that may have put them at risk of contracting the virus. Almost all of them have passed the 14-day quarantine period with no symptoms.

During a self-quarantine, residents text their temperatures once a day to an epidemiologist, and they are instructed to report to public health officials first if they become ill.

Jerry Ashley of Owensboro loves Asian food. For the past year, he ate Chinese food two to three times a week, but Ashley stopped recently because of his fears of being exposed to COVID-19.

“I’m concerned about where these Chinese restaurants get their products to cook. Where do they get their chicken, fruit and vegetables?” Ashley said.

He fears the food may have been shipped in from Asian markets and may have come into contact with the virus.

“It was a concern of mine,” Ashley said. “There may be no danger to it. But why take the chance?”

At this point, Horton said, there is no reason to be concerned about Asian cuisine served locally.

“We think, primarily, the risk is person-to-person contact,” Horton said. “In Kentucky, we think the general public is at low risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.”

Staying informed about COVID-19 is important, he said. Horton advised residents to get their information from a reputable source. He recommends the CDC.

As a courtesy, GRDHD offers a direct link to the CDC’s pages on the virus. The link automatically pops up on the health department’s home page at healthdepartment.org.

The link provides the latest CDC data, information about travel, frequently asked questions and more.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital, the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.