KUED Utah Town Hall on COVID-19 answers common questions

COVID-19 virus. Image: CDC

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 18, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — An electronic town hall meeting, produced by KUED in cooperation with local news agencies, gathered local medical experts to address common questions about the coronavirus.

The special, “COVID-19 in Utah, Your Questions Answered,” can still be viewed online on KUED’s Facebook page, but below are some highlights of questions asked and answered.

One reporter asked why more people who want to be tested for COVID-19 can’t get approved for testing.

Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist for the state of Utah, answered, saying testing and tester protection supplies are limited, so possible cases have to be prioritized.

“We know there people who want to get tested and can’t, but having a COVID-19 positive test shouldn’t change what you do when you are sick. If you are sick, stay home until symptoms resolve.

“We want to test everyone, but we can’t. We have very limited supplies that are required to run the test, and also personal protective equipment for the providers who collect the specimens. Because of the national shortages, and supplies, we are forced to prioritize, who we test.

“We are focused on testing hospitalized patients, those in long-term care  facilities, our healthcare providers and our first responders,” Dunn said. “Those are the populations that are at highest risk for spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable populations.”

Patients who believe they may have coronavirus should contact their doctors remotely for assessment, and doctors will determine whether possible patients need to be tested, Dunn said.

Dr. Michael Good, senior vice president for Health Sciences, University of Utah, addressed why the coronavirus is hitting patients so hard, saying the virus is new, so there are no approved vaccines, and people have no built-in level of immunity as they would from viruses to which they were previously exposed.

“So the virus comes into our community, and it rapidly rises and infects many people at the same time,” Good said. “If that curve gets too high, if too many people are suffering from COVID-19 at the same time, we run the risk of overwhelming our healthcare system. And so our goal with all of the things you hear about — with washing your hands, covering your coughs and your sneezes, social distancing, as we are here, not gathering in large groups, limiting, not taking unnecessary travel — all of those measures are to try and change that tsunami curve into the low and slow curve we typically see with the flu, the so-called flattening the curve.”

Asked about the length of time patients should self-quarantine, Dr. Kashif Memon, an infectious disease specialist with Steward Healthcare, suggested those infected should wait at least 10 days after their last symptom, then consult with their doctor before coming out of self-quarantine.

Asked if the current known number of Utah patients known to have COVID-19 — reported as 63 cases as of Wednesday eventing — could be a small fraction of actual cases, Dr. David Mabey, Utah Emergency Physicians, UMA, InterMountain Healthcare, said the limited number of test kits makes it difficult to know the true number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Mabey reiterated that people who suspect mild cases can treat symptoms while self-isolating, and patients with severe cases should contact their doctors.

“These early steps we are taking, they will have big payoffs down the line. Emergency departments are already on emergency staffing. We are already working to cohort people who may or may not have COVID-19, to keep them separated from patients who are coming in with regular, everyday emergencies,” Mabey said.

“What that is doing is allowing us to troubleshoot our processes before the stakes are as high as they will be. And it’s very valuable to get this early experience so we can prepare, and save lives down the line.”

To view the full Town Hall video and hear thoughts of additional specialists brought in, visit the KUED Facebook page.

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