If you think you may have COVID-19, just assume you do

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

There are no reported cases of the coronavirus in the counties served by the Southwest Nebraska Health Department, but they’re sure to report one when there is.

Notice we said “when” when we would have preferred to say “if.” Do the math, and you’ll see why it’s a virtual certainty COVID-19 will be diagnosed in our area. It’s been diagnosed in North Platte, Gothenburg and Kearney at last count, and Yuma, Colorado, and if you haven’t been to one of those towns recently, chances are, you’ve rubbed shoulders with someone who has, despite social distancing. With only a couple of million people in the state, you will probably know someone who is infected.

Some officials estimate there are a dozen or more undiagnosed COVID-19 cases for every test that comes back positive. And, despite the fact most people recover, there’s no proof, yet, that people actually develop an immunity and won’t be reinfected.

We can probably credit a lack of available testing, rather than social distancing or other steps, for a lack of coronavirus cases in our area.

The fact is, the very limited number of swab tests that are available have to be sent off for analysis, which may take a couple of weeks, by which time the patient will probably have recovered or been hospitalized after their condition worsens.

Because of the limited number of tests, and the need to use valuable personal protection equipment -- PPE -- tests are being used only after other illnesses, such as influenza or RSV, are eliminated.

A caller to the newspaper Tuesday recounted her experience. Experiencing symptoms such as sore throat, coughing, fever, headache and a tightness in her chest, she went into the walk-in clinic, where she was examined and told to go to the emergency room if symptoms got worse.

The caller, who also has rheumatoid arthritis, then called the emergency room, where she was told not to come in unless symptoms worsened, and a breathing treatment while she stayed in her car might be an option.

The caller said she did not want to spread panic in the community, but wanted people to know COVID-19 was probably here.

A check with officials revealed that all the health care personnel involved apparently followed protocols correctly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care workers testing patients for COVID-19 “should wear an N-95 or higher-level respirator (or face mask if a respirator is not available), eye protection, gloves and a gown.

As a result, PPE is reserved for front-line workers treating the severely ill, but it is quickly running out. Some health care workers are working all day without bathroom or meal breaks in order to preserve their masks and gowns.

That’s why it’s important to call in rather than simply driving to a clinic or emergency room -- even if you are infected, you will probably recover, but you may be endangering the health of one of the few people in our small communities who is qualified to care for the seriously ill.

That, in turn, will endanger the health of many others.

By all means, don’t panic, but do take common-sense precautions. Wash your hands often, stay home and maintain social distancing. Have one person do the family shopping for essentials, and take advantage of carry-out and delivery options for meals and other purchases.

If you are experiencing symptoms, stay home and call your health care provider for directions. For general questions, call the Southwest Nebraska Health Department at 308-345-4223 or visit https://www.swhealth.ne.gov/

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