In February, Riverwood Healthcare set up an Incident Command unit to cover the information, preparation, and medical needs surrounding COVID-19, with Dr. Taylor as commander and Director of Nursing Jeanine LeBlanc as operations manager. All other departments at Riverwood are involved as needed for expertise in their areas. The Incident Command unit began meeting daily, and they currently adjusted their meetings to limit the size of the groups gathered in one place.
With the spread of COVID-19, Dr. David Taylor, Riverwood Healthcare’s emergency medicine physician and chief medical officer, was invited to relay up-to-date information about the coronavirus on KKIN Radio’s Community Connections program. Listen to his interview and learn what it means to “flatten the curve,” how to protect yourself and others by practicing “social distancing,” and what is being done locally to combat the virus.
“We’ve prepared for past public health emergencies before,” said Taylor. “With coronavirus, we realized we needed to take a lot of precautions because we realized this is very different from past flu or infectious disease outbreaks.”
There are still unknowns about the virus and its spread, but Riverwood knows it is better to be prepared.
“During the time it is here, we need to help our family members, friends, coworkers, and community without bringing a large number of people together,” Taylor added.
At the time of this writing, there are 169 positive cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). (COVID is the disease and coronavirus is the type of virus.) According to Dr. Taylor, positive cases could be in Aitkin County. He said we should assume it is already here, just in limited amounts.
For those asking about being tested, there are a limited number of test kits available.
Per the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, testing is currently being primarily for those who have been hospitalized, live in group setting such as long-term care facilities or are health care workers. For all others, testing is being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Since there is also standard flu in our area, it helps to know how the symptoms may vary.
“If it comes on quickly, it’s likely regular flu. Within a day, standard flu brings fever, headache, muscle aches, congestion, tight chest,” Taylor said. “COVID-19 generally comes on over five to seven days and the shortness of breath comes later—be concerned if you begin to struggle to breathe. A small number who go on to have serious cases of COVID-19 illness, struggle to breathe and must be hospitalized. It affects the lungs more than a regular flu.”
“Social distancing” and “flattening the curve” are terms frequently used regarding spread of COVID-19. Social distancing needs to be a community effort. This means no large groups over 10 people, staying six feet apart when in a small group, staying home if at all ill, as well as staying in and working from home when possible to lessen the chance of exposure.
That’s why he stresses keeping surfaces clean with disinfectants, washing hands often with soap or hand sanitizer, not touching surfaces needlessly or shaking hands, and avoiding gathering in groups.
“Masks are used to keep someone with symptoms from spreading them,” Taylor said. And the usual mask you see on TV, a procedural mask doesn’t stop aerosolized particles from getting in.”
That is where “flattening the curve” comes in. To reduce the chances of cases of the virus spiking high over two to three months, it’s important to limit interactions with those who may be contagious and might not know it. Viral particles can be shed from the body before a person has symptoms and it is unknown whether a person with COVID-19 may be contagious prior to having symptoms.
“Riverwood has some ventilators that can support long-term ventilation,” said Dr. Taylor. “If we have more patients needing ventilator care than we can handle, CentraCare in St. Cloud would accept our patients and so would hospitals in Duluth and the Twin Cities.”
However, he said, if the ICUs in the Twin Cities or larger Minnesota cities get filled, then what would Aitkin County patients do? If the disease spreads too fast, it would overwhelm our hospitals. By flattening the curve, new positive cases would not double every four to six days, and the cases of the virus could spread out over six to eight months, instead of two to three.
“For example, we have around 16,000 residents in Aitkin County,” said Dr. Taylor. “If the virus infects 40% of our population, which could be possible over the course of the illness in the county, there could be 6,400 cases, give or take, in rough numbers. This would mean 1,000 could need hospitalization, but if we can bring down the number of people needing to be hospitalized with serious illness, this flattens the curve so hospitals can better manage the volume of patients.”
Social distancing helps to keep the virus from spreading rapidly among communities and overwhelming our hospitals with a large number of cases all at one time.
While it is important to take precautions, Dr. Taylor also stressed the need to continue helping others—ask isolated elderly neighbors what they might need, drop groceries off on a doorstep, and especially, support area businesses by buying groceries, ordering takeout/delivery food, and other means, to keep our local businesses thriving.
“This is why Riverwood initiated our planning with the Incident Command unit,” he said. “By being proactive with preparations, and planning for any scenario, with the help of the community doing their part, we’ll combat this virus together.”
For the latest information on COVID-19, visit https://riverwoodhealthcare.org/covid-19/, www.cdcgov/COVID19, or www.health.state.mn.us, or call Riverwood’s Coronavirus Helpline at 844-428-1323, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.