Local medical facilities gearing up for testing, treating of coronavirus

Published 8:33 pm Monday, March 16, 2020

As local testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus gets under way, Dr. Ben Smith says it’s a question of “when” not “if” a case is confirmed in Pike County.

“Right now, it hasn’t exploded here yet, but I expect that to change in the next couple of weeks,” Smith said. “I think in 10-14 days, we’re going to start seeing cases here. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s the timeline I predict.”

Smith said part of that project also lies in the fact that local physicians have only begun to conduct testing for the virus.

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“The testing supplies have been limited,” said Smith, a physician with the Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates. “We do have the testing supplies now and are testing patients who have the symptoms.”

SARHA and the Troy Regional Medical Center are among the facilities that have the capability to collect samples for testing through the Alabama Department of Public Health or private labs, which are coming online this week.

Those symptoms include high fever – over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit; cough; and shortness of breath. Patients who exhibit those symptoms and test negative for flu are candidates for the COVID-19 testing, as are patients who have been exposed to individuals who have tested positive and are exhibiting symptoms.

“And if you have strong symptoms – especially shortness of breath –  you need to consider getting tested at the emergency room,” he said, adding that individuals should call their primary care physician and the emergency room before seeking testing, so proper arrangements can be made.

“But you have to remember, even if you get tested, results can take 48 to 72 hours,” Smith said. “It is critical that if you are tested you continue to self-quarantine until you get those results.”

That self-quarantine and the social distancing measures being put in place by local, state and federal leaders are key to combatting the spread of the virus, Smith said.

“I think it’s an appropriate stance the school systems and others have made,” he said. “The only way we’re going to stop the spread right now is to quarantine each other.”

The virus droplets, he said, can remain in the air for up to 3 hours and on surfaces such as door handles for up to 24 hours, making the social distancing guidelines critical. And, he said, individuals need to be aggressive in their efforts to protect themselves.

“Avoid groups of 10 or more; if you’re going to be in a group of 10 or more, wear a mask. Wear gloves. Wash your hands, every 30 minutes if you’re in a business,” he said. “And, if you’re in a business, clean the doorknobs and counters every 30 minutes …

“And consider taking another set of clothes with you to work so you can change before heading home, especially if you could have been exposed,” he said. “Put those clothes in a bag, tie them up and wash them when you get home.”