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Medical Community Learning, Adapting To Coronavirus

MAYVILLE — Physicians, nurses, public health officials and medical researchers are learning more about the coronavirus and the impact of its outbreak every day. During a press conference Thursday, Christine Schuyler, county director of health and human services, and County Physician Dr. Robert Berke spoke on the issue and its impact on treatment.

“We’re very quickly learning,” Schuyler said. “Public health experts and researchers are doing all that they can to quickly learn and try to decide how long (coronavirus) lives on a surface, how long the transmission period is, but this was something brand new to the medical and academic world. That is why there is so much unknown.”

One of the reasons that analogies between coronavirus and influenza are not appropriate is due to the fact that Covid-19 is a novel pathogen.

“We have seen extensive spread with influenza viruses. There have been pandemics in this world with influenza,” Schuyler said. “Actually most all of our pandemic plans were made because of influenza. This is a novel coronavirus, novel means new. So this strain of virus is new to humans. A virus that used to be present in animals has made a jump to people, and now it has made a jump person-to-person.”

Every year during flu season, vaccines are produced that offer the best possible defense against the strains of influenza virus believed to be circulating in a given area. These vaccines, even if they are not a perfect match for the strain of influenza contracted, do give people an important baseline of immunity.

“Even if the vaccine for influenza at any given year isn’t an exact match or even a good match with the strains that are there, it still provides you some protection,” Schuyler said. “Even if you get a different strain of influenza you are going to have some protection, you are going to have a much milder illness. We have nothing to even give us minimal immunity right now from this novel coronavirus.”

While medical researchers continue to look for new treatment methods and begin the early stages of coronavirus vaccine development, physicians all across the world are on their own learning curve.

In order to slow the spread of infection, doctors have to go against the natural instinct of working at the bedside of their patients.

“I met with a group Monday night representing all the primary care physicians on behalf of our committee to talk about what role we should play. It is a role that is upside down,” Berke said.

“We don’t want sick people coming to the office, because we’re going to be out of the game very very quickly. It has been proven worldwide, if you get your physicians sick and your nurses sick and any healthcare provider sick-one, they infect too many people before they know that they’re sick. 40% of the cases in China were spread by health care workers who didn’t know they were sick, and until we figured that out and stopped it the spread gets just exponential.”

The pandemic has forced physicians to focus many of their efforts on telemedicine-meeting with and treating patients remotely through phone conversations and videoconferencing.

“Tele-health, we are working desperately to have tele-health visits set up,” Berke said. “There is now reimbursement for the physicians for this and they are desperately trying to improve that so that people who have concerns, people who have minor ailments, can be treated either tele-health wise or be triaged through the physician’s office through that (preliminary) phone call, based on a number of questions, that they can come in or be dealt with from home.”

As part of the effort to make telemedicine more effective, local physicians have been given an algorithm (series of instructions) to direct the treatment of specific types of patients and tamper the spread of the virus. Berke explained that medical providers are in the process of screening patients before they come into the office on the phone, to determine if they are likely carriers of coronavirus. Patients are then checked for symptoms upon entering the office in the event that they do have to make an in-person visit.

“Now that is weird, because our job is to treat the sick,” Berke said. “But in this case the treatment is isolation, and the treatment is basically, as Christine said, 80% will get better just with fluids and Tylenol and distancing.”

Both Berke and Schuyler addressed the possibility that vaping could potentially be a factor putting young people at risk, despite many viewing it as a healthier alternative to smoking.

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