EDITOR'S NOTE: We are making all of our Local Coronavirus Coverage free to read. Please consider purchasing a subscription to The Big Lake Wildcat. It is affordable, and helps us continue to provide quality journalism focused on Reagan County and Big Lake. Our mission is not possible without our dedicated readers and advertisers. You may purchase a subscription HERE

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Image: Reagan County Health Authority Dr. James Williams updates local leaders about the COVID-19 pandemic's coming effects on Reagan County

Leaders from across Reagan County met Wednesday afternoon with the county’s health authority, Dr. James S. Williams, at the Reagan County Courthouse.

Williams provided officials from the county, hospital, school, city, Fire/EMS and Sheriff’s Department with information about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it will affect Reagan County.


A Look at County-wide Preparedness for COVID-19

Williams said he spent most of the day Wednesday meeting with officials with Reagan County Fire/EMS, Hospital District, Jail and Sheriff’s Department.

“I was working to confirm the level of preparedness we have,” Dr. Williams said. “And I can say with confidence that the preparedness of our systems in Reagan County are at the best level we could ask for given the state of our national reserve of medical supplies.”

Dr. Williams said everyone involved in the county’s preparedness deserves to be congratulated for the good work they’ve done.

“We will rely on them a lot,” Dr. Williams said. “We need to continue to encourage them.”


COVID-19, Reagan County & the Numbers

Dr. Williams provided numbers to the group to give them context on the pandemic and what they should prepare for.

He said, using overseas numbers as a reference point, that 40 to 60 percent of Americans will contract the virus.

Out of that percentage range, the vast majority will have mild or no symptoms at all.

“A lot of people are going to have it and never get sick,” Dr. Williams said. “82 percent of people are recovering with normal at-home remedies.”

Dr. Williams said those remedies include cough syrup, Tylenol and plenty of water and rest.

“10 to 18 percent, depending on what group you look at, of those infected will get sick enough to require hospital support,” Dr. Williams said. “Or near hospital support, such as trained nursing and fluids.”

Dr. Williams said out of the remainder, 4 to 6 percent of infected persons will require extreme care, such as an ICU bed with ventilator, to stay alive.

He then put those numbers into terms of Reagan County’s population of 5,000.

He stressed he was using figures which reflect a middle-of-the-road scenario, not worst-case or best-case. He also said the numbers he was providing were in no way a prediction.

“In that scenario (mid-level) we expect to see 2,000 infected with Coronavirus in Reagan County,” Dr. Williams said. “We can expect 900 people sick enough to require hospital bed or similar level of care.”

He finished that example by saying we can expect 100 or more people sick enough to need a ventilator to stay alive.

“For context, we have seven hospital beds,” Dr. Williams said. “We can push that to 14 without too much struggle according to the hospital. We might be able to stretch that to 20 or 25 with some ingenuity.”

Dr. Williams said you can see from the numbers why we would be in trouble right off the bat with resources if we hit the mid-level situation.

“There are a lot of good reasons to say the mid-level won’t happen here,” Dr. Williams said. “I personally am optimistic because we tend to have a relatively healthy population.”

He said that Reagan County’s workforce tends to work outdoors more than others around the nation, and we don’t have a large population of chronically ill people who need to live near hospitals for treatment every few days.

“The bad end of things is less likely to be as bad here,” Dr. Williams said. “It is going to happen, though. We are going to have deaths in Reagan County from Coronavirus.”

He said if we do not see deaths locally, it will be due to unforeseen circumstances occurring on the strategic level nationally.

“We are going to see deaths here,” Dr. Williams said. “And some of them are going to be people we don’t expect. Outliers do exist.”

Dr. Williams said he wasn’t giving people those numbers to scare them.

“Being scared is a waste of energy,” Dr. Williams said. “It is so you will be concerned.”

He said the situation needs to be taken seriously so we can do our best to reduce the stress that it places on our emergency systems and hospital.

“If all 900 of those hospitalizations happen in a three week period, we are going to be in a world of hurt,” Dr. Williams said. “If we stretch them over a period of 12 to 18 weeks, which is in the time frame of the epidemic, then it becomes manageable.”

He said it is not likely Reagan County will be hit as hard as bigger cities, and that, if managed correctly, our community may be able to handle the situation and still have empty hospital beds.

“We cannot achieve that if we don’t take the risk of transmission and the reduction of that risk of transmission very seriously,” Dr. Williams said.


INFOGRAPHIC: Graphic explanation of how Social Distancing can slow the spread of a virus.


EDITOR'S NOTE: We are making all of our Local Conovirus Coverage free to read. Please consider purchasing a subscription to The Big Lake Wildcat. It is affordable, and helps us continue to provide quality journalism focused on Reagan County and Big Lake. Our mission is not possible without our dedicated readers and advertisers. You may purchase a subscription HERE

Thank you,
J.L. Mankin
Editor, The Big Lake Wildcat


 

Mitigation of Risk

Dr. Williams said it will be up to every single person living in Big Lake and Reagan County doing their part to mitigate the damage from COVID-19.

“Social distancing is the primary means of mitigation,” Dr. Williams said. “At this point the virus is not contained. It has spread in every state of the union.”

He said evidence of the effectiveness of social distancing can be seen in some of the numbers being released daily.

“On Sunday there were 4,600 positive cases in America,” Dr. Williams said. “Last night at midnight there were 7,800. That number should have doubled over those two and a half days, but it didn’t. That is very good news.”

Dr. Williams said social distancing, in his mind, is already helping in the U.S.

“It is helping us flatten the curve and not get a really high peak,” Williams said. “Flatten the curve means we don’t end up with all 900 of our cases in the hospital in a one week period. If we spread it out over 12 or 16 weeks, then we can manage it.”

Social distancing means keeping six feet of distance between people, don’t shake hands, keep all touching to a minimum, frequently wash your hands, and don’t meet in large groups (nothing larger than 10 people).

“The local grocery store doesn’t need to shut down,” Dr. Williams said. “But people need to recognize that, if everyone is at the store at the same time, that is just stupid.”

GRAPHIC: Illustration of how flattening the curve can keep the peak low enough for efficient medical treatment of a virus.


Panic Buying, Rumors of National Quarantine & Limiting Group Sizes

Dr. Williams said he is encouraging people to stop panic buying which leads to shortages.

“People are buying up so much meat that they can’t refrigerate it properly,” Dr. Williams said. “They will be throwing out meat soon. They will find a can of mushroom soup under their counter in 15 years and wonder... when did I buy that?”

He also said there is no merit to the rumors of a national quarantine.

“That is not going to happen,” Dr. Williams said. “Epidemiologists have all said, that only works if you are in the extreme containment phase, which we have been out of for several weeks.”

He said the President is listening to the smartest brains in the country, and they are all saying the same thing – we are past the point of a national quarantine’s effectiveness.

Dr. Williams then said he strongly suggests public facilities be shut down for events such as weddings, group meetings, Trailblazers and 20th Century Club.

“We need to put restrictions on the number of people there to be civilly responsible,” Dr. Williams said.


Protecting our Emergency Services

Dr. Williams said it is everyone’s responsibility to avoid overtaxing our emergency services.

“Emergency services are going to be pushed to their limit at one point,” Dr. Williams said. “We need to try and be sensitive about that.”

He stressed being mindful about why you are calling 911, and make sure you are not calling for an ambulance over something minor.


COVID-19 Testing

Dr. Williams said testing is still restricted and under the control of the State Health Department.

“If you want a test, you must first meet the criteria,” Dr. Williams said. “Criteria like, a fever of 101 degrees, a cough and other serious respiratory symptoms. If you have those, you may qualify for a test.”

Dr. Williams said, just because you are swabbed, doesn’t mean you will get your test processed right away.

“They will run the test as they have capacity,” Dr. Williams said. “That capacity is increasing all the time.”

He said people should prepare for EMS to restrict transportation in times of high demand.

“If you have illness, fever, cough, EMS will evaluate you before transport,” Dr. Williams said. “Don’t have a fever of 101 degrees, a cough, or respiratory distress? You will not be transported to the hospital.”

Dr. Williams said you will be told to hunker down and quarantine yourself until you feel better.

“We simply won’t transport people to the hospital and overwhelm the EMS and hospital with people who do not need the care,” Dr. Williams said. “It is a simple triage method that people can be a participant in by doing their own self evaluation. Have a thermometer in your home.”

Dr. Williams said the hospital, clinic and EMS will all be using the same screening criteria.

“So if they tell you that you don’t meet the criteria at the E.R. don’t call 911 and say I need an ambulance,” Dr. Williams said. “You won’t be able to play mom against dad with this one.”


School District Closing Classrooms

Dr. Williams said school districts have been closing for four week periods in much of the U.S.

“I am recommending, as your county health authority, that you close your school for four weeks,” Dr. Williams said. “That may be reevaluated after four weeks and kept closed for another four weeks.”

Superintendent Bobby Fryar informed Dr. Williams that Reagan County ISD just had their Spring Break and have implemented online and paper based instruction at home for two weeks.

“My suggestion is just a guideline,” Dr. Williams said. “You will do what is best for the families. We aren’t keeping kids home for the kids sake. They are not going to get that sick. We are keeping them home so they don’t get infected then go home and kill grandma.”

Fryar said the district plans on looking at all available information next week before deciding how they will move going forward.

Fryar did not set a firm ‘return to school’ date when the ‘Non-Traditional Instruction Plan’ was announced on Tuesday.


Dr. Williams’ Final Thoughts

Dr. Williams said people should expect 12 weeks of extreme social distancing on the East and West coasts of the U.S.

“Texas is probably going to get lucky, and it won’t be as extreme because it is not on either coast,” Dr. Williams said. “I will stress, the U.S. may not get hit as hard as other nations around the world. There are specific reasons why Italy and Iran got so sick so fast.”

He said the U.S. may get hit worse than some countries around Europe.

“The U.S. has the most ICU beds per capita than any country on earth,” Dr. Williams said. “We also have the greatest number of people being kept alive with serious chronic medical conditions.”

He noted that obesity seems to be a risk factor for death.

“Well guess which country has the most obese people?” Dr. Williams said. “That is us.”

He noted there are a lot of risk factors being looked at, and it is unknown which factor will have the biggest impact in the U.S.

“We do know, if we don’t follow the pattern of mitigation measures recommended by the CDC and the White House, it will be far worse than if we do,” Dr. Williams said. “I encourage everyone to do so. Everyone within Reagan County’s governance structures needs to make this happen.”

 


 EDITOR'S NOTE: We are making all of our Local Conovirus Coverage free to read. Please consider purchasing a subscription to The Big Lake Wildcat. It is affordable, and helps us continue to provide quality journalism focused on Reagan County and Big Lake. Our mission is not possible without our dedicated readers and advertisers. You may purchase a subscription HERE

Thank you,
J.L. Mankin
Editor, The Big Lake Wildcat