Local doctors: Wash your hands and avoid crowds

Published 8:35 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

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Dr. Ben Smith isn’t an alarmist, but he is a realist.

And he wants to make sure his patients, friends and neighbors in Pike County understand the severity associated with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“Is this real? Oh yea, it’s definitely real,” the South Alabama Rural Health Associates physician said on Friday. “And unless we can change the dynamics of how we mitigate the spread, probably 40 percent of the world’s population is going to be exposed to it.”

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That doesn’t mean they will be symptomatic. or that they will test positive for the virus.

But they will be exposed, and in certain populations – such as the elderly or individuals with underlying health conditions – that exposure can be dangerous.

That is why the SARHA clinics are instituting new patient protocols, encouraging patients under the age of 2 or over 60 to reschedule routine appointments until after May 1. The clinics will also being new triage and patient assessment protocols as patients arrive, helping determine if they are best served at the local clinic or if they need to be evaluated at local emergency rooms .

“We’re doing this to best serve our patients,” he said. “If you come to a clinic with flu-like symptoms – high fever, cough, shortness of breath – you need to be seen at an emergency room,” Smith said.

Amy Minor, chief medical officer at Troy Regional Medical Center, confirmed earlier this week that TRMC has the capability to collect samples for COVID-19 testing and that the hospital is working with local health care providers to ensure patients receive the proper care and treatment.

If an individual is experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as fever; cough; and aches, he should first call his health care providers, who will discuss symptoms and help determine if the patient should self-quarantine, as recommended by the CDC; be directed to the emergency room for COVID-19 testing; or be treated in his doctor’s office.

If an individual is experiencing flu-like symptoms along with shortness of breath, he should call the emergency room for screening and triage.

The key, local providers said, is to call first. “That’s for the patient’s protection,” Minor said. “We all want to be able to treat the patient properly.”

And if you are directed to self-quarantine, doctors say do not take that directive lightly. “If you are sick or feeling sick, stay in and away from the public,” Smith said.

And while health care providers are working to communicate what patients should do in case of feeling sick, they all say preventive measures taken now are even more important.

“I think people should limit exposure to events,” Smith said. “Anywhere there’s a crowd of people – a ballgame, church events, whatever –  you need to keep your distance. I’m a Christian and I’m not advocating not going to church, but you need to be smart about it.”

Dr. Peter “Mickey” DiChiara echoed the need for the public to be cautious and proactive.

“And wash your hands, with soap and water,” he said.

“There is nothing better you can do to protect yourself than wash your hands frequently.”