Officials urge caution, not panic

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Officials urge caution, not panicAs the World Health Organization declares a worldwide pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), stewards of local government, health care and education are collaborating to take all possible precautions to avoid the spread of contagion while attempting to minimize panic, disruptions to service and other negative impacts to the community.

At press time, 114 countries across the globe reported upwards of 118,000 cases of COVID-19, more than 4,300 of which have been fatal.

While the impact on the U.S. has been minimal (about 1,000 cases resulting in 29 deaths), government officials have warned of the potential for the disease to spread rapidly. In both China and Italy, cases grew 10 fold after the first week and 100 fold by the second.

An abundance of reasonable precautions, however, can manage the spread. While some infection is unavoidable, community and individual attempts to reduce risks can help keep outbreaks within the capacity of health care systems to treat. (See related graphic.)

So far, Kern County reports no known cases of the illness. Still, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, Sierra Sands Unified School District and city leadership announced a heightened state of alert to contain local vulnerability.

“We are continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak in both the U.S. and countries across the world,” said James Suver, CEO of RRH. “We are working closely with Kern County and the state of California in taking all the necessary steps required."

The hospital has set up respiratory stations at entrance points and increased signage and advice to patients throughout the campus. RRH is also making plans to increase its capacity to care for patients, if the need arises.

“We would also like to remind people that we are still in flu season, which doesn’t end until April 30,” said Brenda Diel, a RRH administrator whose responsibilities include infection prevention and safety.

She said that anyone concerned that they might have contracted the illness, or been exposed, should first contact their physician’s office. Anyone seeking immediate treatment in the emergency department should inform staff promptly so that appropriate steps can be taken.

Some of the steps that can be taken to reduce risk are avoiding unnecessary exposure to large crowds, washing hands frequently and thoroughly (20 seconds, vigorous scrubbing, warm water, strong soap) and staying indoors if you present symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

“I realize we are all saturated with news and worry of the coronavirus and its continuing impact on the world,” Dr. David Ostash, SSUSD superintendent, wroteto districtwide staff, students and parents.

“It is important that we all plan proactively for the reduction in risk for all viruses and, especially right now, the coronavirus.”

In addition to suggestions for personal precautions against spreading risk, he added that district staff has enhanced protocols for sanitation, food safety, etc.

He echoed the advice of virtually every major employer in the valley — that staying home if you don’t feel well remains the simplest and most effective action anyone can take.

This week saw the U.S. restrict international travelers from entering the country and discourage nonessential regional travel.

Healthcare officials have noted that one of the difficulties in defining the risks and projecting the spread of COVID-19 is the newness of the disease — which first appeared in December in China.

Part of the abundance of caution is driven by the relative unknowns associated. Because of that, many experts say that actual contraction and mortality rates cannot be accurately quantified in real time.

“We know just by looking at the stock market that a lot of people have a significant fear of this virus,” City Manager Ron Strand told members of the Ridgecrest Exchange Club on Wednesday.

“As time goes by, our healthcare officials learn more. What we know now is that our most vulnerable are those with underlying medical conditions, compromised immune systems and our elderly.”

Strand said that he has continued to work with the hospital, school district and government agencies to understand risks and prepare for fallout.

“We can’t really predict what will happen, but regardless we are responsible for finding a way to provide public safety.”

Last week Congress signed into law $8 billion in emergency funding to combat coronavirus. Funding is designed to speed development of the vaccine and to bolster access to testing and treatment. At press time, RRH was reported to have the ability to send out samples for coronavirus testing, though only for people with acute symptoms.

Pictured: The following graph, circulated by the Centers for Disease Control, shows the benefit of preventive measures.

Story First Published: 2020-03-13