Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas and Health Department Head Amber Reed sat down virtually with League of Women Voters’ interviewer, Marco Dees, to give citizens a solid update and sense of the coronavirus pandemic in general and especially how we’re doing here in Montgomery County.
As Douglas reviewed the nature of this “novel” (not seen before) type of coronavirus, now called COVID-19, he emphasized that the dramatic actions our country and countries around the world are taking to mitigate COVID-19 are necessary because of the tremendous speed of this infection’s spread.
“We must do everything we can to slow it down as medical researchers study it and move toward treatments.” That a virus has been able to circulate all over the globe in three months is astonishing. Since the virus is “novel,” our best hope is to slow it down by distancing ourselves so our health care systems aren’t overwhelmed with very sick patients.
While fatality rates are difficult to determine because we simply do not know who is and isn’t infected, we know that those older than age 50 are at greater risk as are people with underlying health conditions of any age. Douglas emphasized that this is true for all diseases: those are the vulnerable populations for flu, for instance. Because of coronavirus’s velocity of spread — three months to reach every corner of the globe — we must take these now well known precautions: wash our hands with soap often, keep 6-9 foot distances from others and wear masks (homemade ones are fine) to keep our own droplets from spreading if we sneeze or cough. This is necessary for public health in general. In the five weeks since Indiana’s first case on March 6, thousands have fallen ill and our state has had more than 300 fatalities.
Turning to our county, Dees asked, “How prepared were we in Montgomery County? ... As far as I can tell at this point we don’t seem to be getting hit as hard as many other areas. Why is that? Are we lucky, isolated or doing something right?”
Douglas quickly noted that many factors have helped us do as well as we have. Our (national award-winning) health department had emergency plans in place. It helps that Mayor Todd Barton, a former fire chief, values emergency management and so we’re especially well equipped there. The health department has fielded lots of questions from local businesses and they have been “pretty responsive and responsible.” Businesses and all of us are encouraged to visit the Indiana Department of Health’s web pages for more specific guidance.
Both Reed and Douglas had high words of praise for our school superintendents, all three of whom closed down our county schools days ahead of the state shutdown order. The three districts work together and all are providing food to students via their bus routes each weekday. As Douglas observed, this has prevented not only coronavirus circulating, but has reduced a great number of spring infections that always crop up among kids. He notes that in his family practice clinic, they’re seeing way less strep throat and intestinal bugs so common in the spring among school children. He reflected for a moment: “Hats off to the schools. I’m guessing that when epidemiological studies are done after this is over, one of the things that helped us most was closing our schools as early as we did.”
When asked about “measures being taken to ensure those at greater risk are being checked on,” Douglas described the rapid rise in “phone check ins.” Our medical offices are also ramping up “virtual visits” and other kinds of telemedicine. “We’re learning on the fly and some things we’re learning will stay with us.”
Of course it goes without saying that the core of the county’s success at this point in “flattening our curve” comes from the tireless, professional work of the health department and of Douglas and his colleague Dr. John Roberts during this time. The health department has been excellent at communicating daily with the public. It is our public health nurse, Becki Reynolds, and her staff who have done the sleuthing work of “contact tracking” that has so quickly led to our COVID-19 patients being isolated and their contacts quarantined. You can hear details on how “contact tracking” is done in our county by listening to the full interview which will be released soon.
In conclusion, Douglas reminds us to practice ordinary ways of staying healthy during these days: keep exercising (taking care to keep distance when outside your home, especially where others are jogging or running); and, keep eating healthy, fresh food. “Clean produce, as you ordinarily should, but maybe haven’t.” This pandemic, he notes, is “forcing us to look at ourselves and what’s important, to think about other people, of the wellbeing of those around us.” Because we have been socially responsible in the main, we are doing OK. He pauses to say that this can “change in a day; this thing is moving so fast.” Right now, though, thanks to our preparedness and to our compliance with CDC guidelines, most of us remain well. Douglas concludes, “If we weren’t doing this distancing, we’d be in trouble.”
The League of Women Voters, open to men as well as women, is a nonpartisan multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontco.org or send a message to LWV, P.O. Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.