COVID-19 Brief: 9 a.m. Thursday, March 19

Mar 19, 2020

Credit City of Homer

The City of Homer is facilitating live, weekly, local updates of information on COVID-19. Thursday, March 19, Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital and Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Kirko presented updated information and took calls from KBBI listeners.


This is KBBI Homer with a weekly live call in COVID-19 update, this week with Chief Mark Kirko from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. Derotha starts off the conversation talking about the hospital's procedures for keeping safe.
SPH: 

..No general entrance at all through the lower level, and upstairs is restricted to staff and individuals who have appointments already and also some designated visitors when folks are in the hospital. It's very important. An important part of healing is to have visitation. So we do have a restricted visitation program where patients can have one visitor a day. Expect if you are coming for any of those reasons or for care, certainly for an ER visit, expect to see screeners at the doors. The screening might look different each day depending on the situation in the community but the screening might be anything from just answering some questions to anything beyond that. So just know that there are screeners at the door. We've also made a few changes in our overall services given the situation. Homer Medical has canceled the evening walk-in clinics. Obviously, no visitation in longterm care, the cafeteria and gift shop are closed to the public. All of our community classes and events are postponed. Keep in touch with the hospital on our website sphosp.org I put all the information there. Probably the most popular question is, is the hospital testing? And, yes, the hospital is offering testing for COVID-19. What do you have to do to qualify for that? You have to get pre-qualified by a medical provider. So if you feel that you are sick with symptoms, so there is no curiosity testing.

KBBI:
Curiosity testing? You mean people who believe they're showing symptoms?

SPH:
Well, if your symptoms are mild, the recommendations are to shelter in place. Stay home, stop the spread, prevent the spread. And most people weather this fine.

KBBI:
I want to push you a little bit on this because I have some questions set up already in advance that people have sent in. If you have to be tested in order to be clear, does that mean after 14 days, if you self quarantine the way you're supposed to, if you've traveled, if you believe you have symptoms, then after that 14 day quarantine, are you good to get outside even without a test?
SPH:
Well, if you honestly quarantined.

KBBI:
But remember, even though you're quarantining, if people in your home or the home you live in aren't, that means your kid's exposed. That means your kids, everyone you come in contact with, they all must quarantine as well.

SPH:
And I would like to point out what a test means. A test means at that moment in time, the virus is not active in your system, but that can evolve over time. So you can do a test on Monday, get the results on Thursday, but in the meantime, the virus has developed in your system. There's the active part. So, all the test is, is a point. It's that moment in time, that's all that that shows. It's stressful for people because they want that test to be the total clearance and sadly, it's the clearance at that moment, if you will. And it's hard for business owners dealing with do I allow employees here? Oh, well, let's get him tested. That doesn't solve anything. The getting them tested doesn't solve anything. So I just want to point out what the test looks like. You call your provider, you get pre-qualified by your doctor or nurse practitioner, even a clinic nurse can do that. You call and you get pre-qualified, they send you up to the hospital and we do an outdoor swab.
KBBI:
It's a big Q-tip up your nose, right?

Chief Kirko:
Yes. It is only a couple inches though. It's not all the way up your nose.

SPH:
So, you've already been pre-qualified when you come, and then all we do is conduct the test and send it in to the state for processing. So just want everybody to know that those are the steps to get testing.

KBBI:
Chief Kirko, what have you got for an update?
Chief Kirko:
Okay. The city has been real busy with all of this. We are meeting daily at the EOC, actually bringing our EOC more telephonic. So we're doing that, practicing that social distancing, even with our command staff. We're working real hard to make sure that we don't jeopardize anyone. We are coming up with plans to make sure that everything is getting accomplished that that can be accomplished.
We are going to ask that the community realize that for safety reasons for them and all city employees, some of the doors are going to be now no longer accessible to the public. We are looking at providing information and phone numbers and intercom systems at those locations so when there is somebody in the building, they will have someone to talk to. At the fire station we're closing that front door to the public to try to control any spread of any illness.

KBBI:
If people are coming in, are you taking their temperature?

Chief Kirko:
No, we are not. That's all, again, being directed to their doctors to do those things because we don't have the means for doing any kind of testing or anything like that. So it would be in everybody's best interest to consult with your physician on how you're feeling. At emergency services, we are trying to protect our volunteers so we've gone to a 24 hour staffing level with two personnel to cover all immediate ambulance needs. If there's a fire, obviously the volunteers will come in and staff up their equipment like they normally would. I know that there's gonna be a lot of questions from folks on things like, including the harbor activities and the harbormaster, Brian (Hawkins, Harbormaster), is working really, really hard at making sure that all of the necessary facilities are remaining open to the public where they can. And the rest of Public Works are all doing what they can to maintain a normal level of service for folks with some restriction because we're trying to, again, keep that social distancing. Let's flatten the curve on this. So that's what our goal is in all of this. We see that the state, the federal government, they've enacted closures of sit down restaurants and liquor establishments and things like that. We've also done that here in town. So, if you can't sit down, then please order out just to support those local businesses and help keep them afloat as well. We need to be keeping our hands clean. All those same messages, they don't stop day to day. Those are the messages we need to provide. Hats off to those folks who are making sure that our local citizens are taken care of properly. You can always call your local grocery store, Save U More and Safeway and find out what that plan looks like if you are ill and you can't come out.

KBBI:
I have a question in my queue about that, about being able to pick up your groceries. Save U More has seniors-only hours for shoppers 60 and over on Wednesdays from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. Safeway is reserving store hours for at-risk shoppers on Thursdays and Tuesdays from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.
Chief Kirko:
I don't know if it's going to be today, but I did hear some chatter that I feel is pretty relevant, that there is going to be some potential options for delivery, pickup and pickup in the parking lot.

SPH:
For somebody who might not be that familiar with the subject, they might think, oh, there's a special time for seniors to shop, this must be a senior disease, and that is not true. This is an everybody disease.

KBBI:
Seniors are less likely to recover if they get symptoms.

SPH:
But anybody else out there listening who isn't in that group, it doesn't mean that you don't get the illness. It just means your symptoms might be different, and it might mean that you're a carrier without even realizing that you have it. Let's talk about that. I'm sorry to say that the Public Health Department told us 10 minutes before we went to air that they were unable to be present or call in today. So we will seek out Public Health and get some questions. There are questions you are going to have, which we will not be able to address because there is no Public Health official here.
Chief Kirko:
Yes, going back to the whole grocery shopping thing too. The chains of getting supplies into Homer has not really taken the big hit. Where we've missed the mark on all of this is we've gone out and shopped overly heavy for what the circumstances are. So kind of refrain yourself if you can, from doing that. Take a step back from that and buy only what you need so that everybody has a chance to weather this storm.

KBBI:
Another recommendation I've seen is if you're not on WIC, if you're not using public funds to get food, then don't buy the WIC approved items. Leave those for the people who need those because they can't just buy another brand. Right. It looks like all the lines are lighting up, so I'll be waiting for the very efficient Chloe who is answering phones in another room. This gives me a minute to tell you that we're all six feet apart right now. All doors are open. We're not closing doors in the station so no one has to touch a door handle. We're disinfecting three times a day. Most of our employees are now working from home and have been for a week.

Chief Kirko:
These are the kinds of recommendations that everyone should be following. That's what the city is doing right now with a lot of their staff that can work from home. Obviously, you know, a loader operator and people doing snow removal, they can't work from home but we do have positions and administrative functions that most of their work is either by computer or telephone, making sure that those people are working safely from home.

KBBI:
I have a question here from email kathleen@kbbi.org about social distancing, closing entertainment establishments. And one thing that hasn't yet been addressed is some area churches are already doing virtual services and I was wondering, does the hospital have recommendations or considerations for public gatherings?

SPH:
We are simply adopting the CDC guidelines, doing it right. No more than 10 people, no more than 10 and six feet apart. I will say that there's a link on the CDC guidelines that's advice for folks planning community gatherings, and it has a lot of really good recommendations on the use of social media and systems in place that allow people to opt in and opt out easily in those kinds of things. So I would definitely suggest folks utilize that. But I'd also remind people that if you do choose to get together with a group of four or five of you, for whatever reason, if you do choose to do that, or if you're at the grocery store and you're in line, do not assume that the person in front or behind you is adopting the same philosophy that you're adopting. Okay. So it's up to you to create the space and don't feel bad about that, you know? Yes. In our old society or the one from two months ago, that might've felt rude if you will, but, well, it's okay.

KBBI:
Malcolm is on line one. Malcolm, do you read?

Malcolm:
I was just curious if you guys could tell us how many tests have been done in Homer, and then I'm sure everyone wants to know if there's been any positives for Homer.
SPH:
Thanks Malcolm, great question. As of yesterday, at 1:00 PM, we had conducted 12 through the hospital testing. Not all of them had come back, but all of the ones that had come back were negative.

And I will also point out that the State of Alaska, and I know you're all tired of me saying - go to coronavirus.alaska.gov but let me tell you, it's good information. If you go there and you click the button that says case count, they've now expanded that to show the regions where the count, the positives are coming in throughout the state. And so anybody in town, anybody with internet can go on and look. They update it daily so you can get a good snapshot of what's going on statewide in all the different regions and the city's website is posting all that most relevant current information daily. As soon as it comes out, we're trying to pass it along that way. 

KBBI:

Dave has emailed kathleen@kbbi.org to say, "I'm planning to travel through SEATAC Monday for a Hawaii work gig for a month. Is there a safe way to do that?

Chief Kirko:
I don't know that I have great information for that other than, again, as best you can and just like Derotha just said, don't worry about offending somebody. In line, stand six feet back. I think all the ticket agents at airports are probably realizing this and all those kinds of things. I understand how vulnerable they are. I'm not going to say that air travel is safe or unsafe at this point, but common sense prevails. And a lot of these situations that we know about social distancing, and I think there's a lot of people that are not traveling. I just had a friend traveling from Anchorage to Juneau, yesterday. They said that plane was almost empty, a plane that normally carries just over 200 people. There was like 20 people on it.

SPH:
I'd also remind people that if you choose to travel right now, it could have an impact on your health, but it might impact, down the road, your return. So just be ready for that. That you know folks that are returning from the lower 48 right now, the state is asking them to.

KBBI:
Well, they're not asking you, they're ordering.

SPH:
They're ordering them. Right. For two weeks.
KBBI:
Everyone who lives in your house, not just you. We have a limited amount of time this morning. There's another 10 minutes to go, because honestly, an hour in the morning is too much to ask of Chief Kirko's time and the hospital's time right now. And I have a question from email. "We traveled in January and got sick with fevers when we got back. I've had a cough for about two months now. I'm wondering if we've already had it. Is there a possibility?” First of all, they're wondering if they've already had it, and second, can you get sick with it again once you've already had it?
SPH:
If a person has symptoms similar, fever and cough, shortness of breath, they should call their provider. Everybody's unique, their body and their health is unique. So it's really important. This is like one of those really awesome opportunities where it's like, let's call the doc. Because it's been a long time, right, since we've been able to say, call the doc and it's a good reminder right now that don't just walk in anywhere. If you believe you're symptomatic, please call first. That's to protect other people in the building, but we want to protect healthcare providers right now as much as possible so that we can be strong throughout all of this response.

KBBI:
How are supplies holding up for your providers?

Chief Kirko:
Masks and such as that? I would say supplies are fairly decent compared to some of the headlines that you see nationwide and everything. I want to give a shout out to HEA who had a reserve for emergencies and they shared some with the hospital, a significant amount of boxes of masks. Thank you HEA for that. If you have a stockpile that you're not necessarily going to use in the immediate future, it is always nice to share. We certainly appreciate it. The hospital EMS responders have a little bit thinner of a supply, so we're going to have to be really cautious on our response.

KBBI:
Eddie is on line one. Eddie, do you read?

Eddie:
In relationship to the testing kits, how many kits are available now on hand in-house, on the counter, what have you, at the Homer hospital and other local points. And I know there may not be medical personnel on your panel this morning, but earlier I heard that there is a three to five day waiting period for the test results. I find that, you know, not good, and I'm wondering if the medical personnel feel the same way in terms of the person having to wait that much longer to figure out if they're positive or not having to then recall, five days before they were even tested, who they were in contact with, where they went, what they touched, et cetera. When we have the example of Korea doing tests in a matter of hours. Will somebody there, let me know what the medical perspective is on that.

SPH:
Thank you, Eddie. You bring up an awesome point, the turnaround time. If you feel that you are ill enough and meet the other criteria such as you were with a confirmed case or in an area of widespread community transmission, if you feel that it is to the level that you need to be tested for COVID-19, you should just act like you are contagious. It doesn't matter if the test takes a day or five days. Your behavior should reflect that you have a contagious, respiratory disease that you do not want to share with others. Regarding the number of tests, we swab for the tests, but we send them to the state lab for processing, so they are the ones that control the turnaround time. And I know based on our daily calls that they are functioning at the maximum level that they can to try to process tests and turn them around.

KBBI:
And for the person who asked about the positive test in Seward, the information I can give you that is most current is from Alaska Public Media. They say that the Seward case was travel related and that it was a younger person, not a senior citizen. So I just wanted to give that information out because I know Derotha from the hospital said, do not assume that this is just something for seniors. Thank you very much for being here. I apologize for not being able to provide a public health official, but we will keep at that. And if there are any statements you would like to make now, because I know you have to get on to other meetings and other responsibilities....

SPH:
Just try to stay informed the best you can. I know there's plenty of great locations out there. The city's website, https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/ that'll give you updated information. Continue that social distancing and washing your hands. That's the big message.
KBBI:
Thank you Chief Mark Kirko and Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. I'd remind everybody, call first if you feel you need medical care, call first. Call your health care provider. If you don't have a health care provider, call the Homer office of the Alaska Division of Public Health (907) 235-8857 If you believe that you might have been exposed, then it's on you, mandated by the state, to stay home for 14 days along with everybody in your house. You don't need to be told that by a health care provider. You've got to just do that. Just do it.