Allen Countians have done well to protect themselves from illness amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — mainly via social distancing and washing their hands frequently — Dr. Brian Wolfe said.
The danger now is complacency, he warned.
“My big concern is that in rural America we have this idea we have space between each other, and that’s why we’re not seeing the cases,” Wolfe said. “We cannot be complacent.”
Wolfe is a physician at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas and chairman of the Thrive Allen County Board of Directors.
Wolfe sat down for an extended discussion about COVID-19 for “Registered,” the Register’s new podcast.
Wolfe detailed protocols local health professionals are taking to protect themselves from possible infection; ongoing concerns he has about the novel coronavirus, and why the lack of available tests is affecting how soon Americans can return to their daily routines.
“The concern is who’s out there who may be infected that we don’t know about,” Wolfe said. As of Friday, there still had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allen County.
It’s important to maintain social distancing, particularly from coming in contact with those more vulnerable to sickness, such as the elderly, “so we can keep the numbers down,” Wolfe said. “Are we going to wait until somebody shows up here sick, and then decide, gee we ought to be more careful. Or do we start practicing that care now, so we are going to be making sure our friends and families are going to be safe and not get sick.”
The advent of social media has become a key in staying in touch with loved ones amid social distancing, Wolfe noted, to prevent feelings of isolation.
“Loneliness is terrible,” he said. “It does affect us. It causes depression, anxiety, all that. Mental health people are very concerned about this.”
Wolfe noted the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center has developed a hotline for those who are struggling.
Staying in touch while being apart is key.
Wolfe recounted a recent family “get-together” that utilized Zoom, an online meeting program.
“We had three different families,” he said. “One was in Vermont, one was in Missouri, and one in Iola. We played games over the computer. It was a way to connect.
“Be creative,” he continued. “If you have an older, elderly neighbor then pick up the phone and call them. Let them know somebody’s paying attention and is concerned. That’s one of the most important things. … If this goes on for weeks and weeks, it is going to be a huge piece.”
As an aside, Wolfe is the husband of Register owner and publisher Susan Lynn.
IN AN IDEAL scenario, health care professionals would have an abundance of tests available to check with much of the public to determine if they have (or have had) COVID-19.
“In a perfect world, we’d have thousands of tests available, and we’d be blanket testing everybody. We’d be contacting people you’ve been around, testing and quarantining,” Wolfe said. “We’d know whether the event you had was COVID-19 or an upper respiratory tract infection of some kind.”
Instead, “what we’re doing now is testing potentially sick people,” a task made more difficult because some carriers of the virus may be asymptomatic.
For those who experience symptoms of COVID-19 — strained breathing, dry coughing or having a fever — they are encouraged first to call their health care provider.
Many meetings may be by telephone or video chat.
“Really, we don’t want you in our office,” Wolfe said. “We want to keep people home and away from everybody else, so they’re not going to come in contact with this virus. Whether it’s urgent or emergent, a phone call is best. We can maybe deal with it over the phone, or maybe it’s serious enough that you need to go to the emergency room.”
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state grew by 60 on Friday, to 1,166. Kansas reported eight more deaths, bringing the total to 50. In the last week, the number of confirmed cases has doubled.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
“We’ve done a fair share of testing in the office,” Wolfe said. “The questions we ask, and should be asking is ‘Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? Have you been around somebody who’s had it? Have you traveled somewhere?’
“The dilemma is if it’s asthma, COPD, underlying issues, or a cold,” he said. “Sometimes it’s confusing (figuring out) who’s sick and somebody who’s not.”
Those suffering mild symptoms are encouraged to treat the symptoms as they would other illnesses such as colds or the flu.
“In addition to washing your hands, washing your hands, washing your hands, the other things to be doing are treating the symptoms,” Wolfe said.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is likely more effective than anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, he noted.
“The things not to be used in this illness are steroids or prednisone,” Wolfe continued, which may be problematic for those suffering from COPD, because those medications adversely affect a patient’s immune system.
Therein lies the inherent dangers with such a novel coronavirus, which still has no known vaccine or FDA-approved treatment.
It also hammers home the vital importance of social distancing and using plenty of hand soap.
“If people isolate, they really will help the medical community be able to deal with those cases we have,” Wolfe said.
AS THE pandemic has unfolded, more folks have begun sharing online information from unconfirmed sources, Wolfe warned. I tried this, does this work?
“The places to get good information are the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE.) They are our main go-to source, really, and they’re sending out things to physicians all the time.
“There’s a lot of stuff on the internet, obviously, things that are probably not really accurate,” he continued. “The other thing is things are changing day to day. Best practices may be different today than they were yesterday. It’s a challenge to discern what’s real and what’s not.”
TO HEAR the full discussion, go to iolaregister.com/registered, or download the discussion via other podcast networks.