Local Health Officials Discuss Coronavirus Impact



In an effort to bring first-hand details of the Coronavirus situation to the city’s residents, Lamar Mayor, Kirk Crespin invited Karen Bryant, the Interim CEO from Prowers Medical Center, Eric Niemeyer, CEO of High Plains Community Health Center and the Prowers County Public Health Department to the City Council meeting this past Monday March 9th, to share their prevention plans, procedures and suggestions for our community.

Miranda Foster, Registered Nurse with the Prowers County Public Health Department, spoke first, providing an update on the 11 positives currently in Colorado. The majority of the cases were occurring in Front Range communities, she explained, noting that of those, several had traveled out-of-country and a good majority were of senior citizen age and had experienced secondary health-related illnesses. She compared Coronavirus to the 2019 flu season in the U.S., noting there were 34 million documented cases of which 350,000 required hospitalization and 20,000 deaths were attributed to the flu. As of Tuesday morning, March 10th, at least 800 people in 36 states and Washington, D.C. have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, and at least 27 patients with the virus have died.

Foster said the county health department has been in touch with Prowers Medical Center, High Plains Community Health, the school district, EMS, dispatch, law enforcement and others to review their emergency management programs and infectious disease protocols. She added, “If anyone in the community has any questions about what to do, send them to County Public Health at 336-8721 and guidelines will be made available to any organization that has a question.” Above all, she said, there’s no reason to panic, suggesting internet websites on how best to deal with coronavirus should a family member take ill, as well as suggestions for home, work, business or healthcare.

She said while this is a new strain, “It really isn’t new to us, we have a new strain, but we’ve done Ebola, H1N1, we do this stuff constantly, but because this is new, it is scaring some people.” She added that the first, basic line of defense is a common sense recommendation to just wash your hands with a soap solution/sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol and to be sure to wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

Foster stressed the need for flu shots, even at this point in the season, because if the flu can be mitigated in the community, it lessens the case load on the providers. She said public health will continue with flu vaccinations into the summer by making an arrangement at 336-8721.

Karen Bryant told the council Prowers Medical Center will stay in contact with the state and governor’s office on the situation. “We’re using a multi-tiered plan as preparation before any cases come to us, prevention practices and an awareness plan should we have a local case.” Bryant said the PMC internet website, prowersmedical.com, offers information links to organizations such as the CDC and the state health department as well as suggestions for what you can do at home to assist your family to stay healthy or steps to follow should they contract the virus. She added that the hospital will begin an information campaign with radio and print announcements as well as the PMC phone system.

“Because the clinic and hospital are in a preventative mode, visitors will see our staff in personal protective equipment. Don’t panic, this measure is to protect them so they can continue to treat our patients. Masks and hand sanitizer had been available at the main entrance, but because some visitors were taking the entire box of masks and bottles of sanitizer with them, the hospital will still make them available, but we need to maintain our own supplies.”

Bryant explained, “If someone feels they have been exposed to the coronavirus or is showing similar symptoms, it mostly likely is the flu, but we’re asking them to call our clinic first before you arrive and they’ll be met in the parking lot for testing rather than taking them indoors in case the tests shows positive. The provider will then make a decision on what steps will be needed based on the test outcome.” As Foster mentioned earlier, Bryant reiterated that if a person shows some flu-like symptoms, the best course of action is to stay at home as well as keeping kids out of school as a preventative measure.

“We should take this situation seriously, but we can also employ common sense measures to protect ourselves at work and in the home,” explained Eric Niemeyer, CEO of High Plains Community Health Center. He explained that the only people who should be wearing face masks are those who are showing symptoms of the Covid-19 to prevent the spread of the disease to others. Healthy people don’t need them unless they are a medical provider.

Niemeyer said any virus test results will come from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, although the test packages will be sent from either High Plains or PMC once tests are done there. He added it will take about a 24 turn-around time once the tests have been sent up by courier.

High Plains, he explained, is working under both federal and state health guidelines. In answer to a question about survival rates from the virus, Niemeyer replied the strain is several percentage points more virulent than regular flu, but the recovery is based on a number of variables, taking into consideration a person’s age, general health and co-morbidity or chronic issues…some of those included an added risk.

By Russ Baldwin


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