With Sunday’s announcement of the first positive case of COVID-19 identified on the Palouse in Whitman County, it is a good moment to review what you and your family need to know.
As emergency physicians with many years of combined experience treating injury and disease, we are asking the public to take serious preparations and precautions and act now to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our region.
The infection and disease are a serious risk to our society, particularly for older people and those with underlying health conditions. Most people understand this, but there are still some who do not recognize the gravity of the situation we face. It is critically important for each of us to take action now to prevent the spread of the infection so that the health care system does not become overwhelmed. We are grateful for the efforts of the city of Moscow, University of Idaho and other organizations to either close or greatly restrict public activities.
Human to human contact must be significantly limited if we are to have a real chance of slowing the spread of COVID-19. By slowing the spread, we can help give our health care system enough time and capacity to absorb patients and care for those who become sick.
Each of us has an urgent responsibility to drastically limit our social activity. Although we do not yet have an order (such as shelter in place) from the city or state, we would recommend you and your family to act as if we did. This means only leaving the house for critical and essential activities like getting groceries, medicine and supplies. If you must go in public, try to keep a distance of at least six feet from other people. This includes children so you cannot let them use the time away from school as a playdate with friends.
We know you have questions about testing as test kits are in limited supply nationwide.
Due to the rapid spread of the virus, a person with typical viral upper respiratory symptoms should act as if they have the COVID-19 virus whether or not they have a test and isolate themselves from other people. A negative test yesterday is not a guarantee that today you don’t have COVID-19. This is one of the reasons testing is less useful than one might hope for people with an illness that resembles COVID-19.
Please isolate yourself if you feel sick. If you feel too ill to remain at home, call the Gritman COVID-19 Hotline at (208) 883-4109 or public health at (866) 736-6632. If you’re having a medical emergency, call 911. We also have a section of our website dedicated to connecting you with the most up-to-date information and many useful resources at gritman.org/coronavirus. Please check it several times a day and be sure to follow Gritman Medical Center on Facebook.
This is a fast-moving situation but as of now we do not have any confirmed positive cases reported in Idaho Public Health District 2, which includes Latah County. We recognize it is likely we will eventually have a positive test in our region. But if we act now to significantly limit all social contact, we will have a better chance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and controlling the situation for the benefit of everyone.
So please do your part to help us serve the health care needs of people in our region, particularly those in vulnerable populations like older people and those with compromised health.
Take comfort in knowing that the team at Gritman — doctors, nurses and staff — has been working as a unified team, preparing for this situation for several weeks. We are ready to help but we need you to do your part. Stay at home, keep your distance, wash your hands and stay positive. We are all in this together.
Dr. John Brown is chief medical officer at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow. He wrote this message on behalf of himself and his colleagues at Moscow Emergency Physicians.