DCH staff ensures ‘proactive’ measures in virtual town hall

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Reporter

Shortly after instating a citywide curfew, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox addressed the public via Facebook livestream with updates about coronavirus efforts. Maddox was joined by DCH health professionals Dr. Timothy Lovely, an emergency medicine specialist, and Dr. Robin Wilson, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

The stream was kicked off by the discussion of the coronavirus in comparison to the flu.

“So I think we started off with the flu as an analogy for coronavirus because they’re both viruses, and the people that understand that, and the way that they spread is similar,” Lovely said. “You know, you can touch something that has the virus on the surface and touch your mouth and get infected that way. So I think that’s a very apt comparison in that way.”

While these similarities are noteworthy, that may be the extent of them.

“I think that’s about where the comparison ends,” Lovely said. “Coronavirus is much more dangerous than the routine flu.”

Lovely explained that this is due to the reproductive rate of the virus. While it is likely that someone with the flu would then pass it onto 1.3 other people, someone infected with coronavirus could pass it to 2.5 others.

“When you start to extrapolate that out, it starts to multiply so much faster,” Lovely said. “That exponential growth is one thing that is very scary. In addition to that exponential growth, you have the mortality factor, as this is a much more deadly virus than the flu.” 

DCH began offering screening services last Monday, but like many testing facilities across the nation, the hospital can’t test on site and is faced with shortages of swabs and other supplies. Less than a week into screening, the hospital ran into a problem: Over half of the samples taken to testing were spoiled throughout the screening process. 

DCH is working to mitigate this by supplying more swabs. Before, staff were using sputum tests to gather samples, which is only recommended if the patient has a productive cough, according to the CDC.

“If you get swabbed and your test comes back negative, depending on the prevalence in the city, there’s probably an estimated 30% false negative rate,” Lovely said. “The CDC says one negative test is not enough to go back to work because you still have a 3-in-10 chance you have the illness. So they recommend at least two swabs 24 hours apart, or, better, symptom-free for three days, or you stay out for 14 days.”

When asked by Maddox about DCH’s course of action to keep up with the pandemic, Wilson ensured that the staff was doing everything they could to be ahead of the virus.

“We’ve been very proactive,” Wilson said. “We’ve limited visitation on all of our campuses, we’ve limited the number of entrances, and we screen people as they come in. We have informed our staff that we might call on them to do additional jobs and responsibilities. We’ve dedicated some of our units to house the patients when they eventually start increasing in numbers. We’ve added on more ventilators to provide that ventilator support. We’re doing a lot of proactive measures to be prepared, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to serve the community.”

Lovely explained that if a patient has coronavirus-type symptoms, they will be given a mask and must walk through a separate entrance, directly back to their own room with a closed door. 

“The most important thing we can do right now is keep our vulnerable patient population safe and keep our staff safe,” Lovely said, noting that staff must change their gear between rooms to prevent contamination. “Each day when I walk through, I’m going to the ERs every day, and the first question I ask our staff and physicians is ‘Do you feel safe?’ and ‘Is there anything we can do differently to make sure you are safe?’ and if the answer to that question is ever ‘No,’ we address that immediately.”

According to Maddox, who spoke with the Alabama Department of Health, the average age of Alabamians testing positive is 42. While the older population is at a higher risk, there have still been reported cases of younger citizens with the virus.

Maddox asked Lovely about the population’s response to the virus, which he assured was not an overreaction.

“So we’re doing everything we can to get ready,” Lovely said. “This is extremely scary. If you even look, certainly if you look internationally at what’s happening, I believe it’s absolutely terrifying.”

But this fear does not come with hopelessness. 

“I think we’ve done a great job getting ready at DCH,” Lovely said. “We’re braced for impact for what may come, and I’m very proud of what we’ve done in the community.”

Lovely wrapped up his appearance by advocating for a joint effort between citizens and medical personnel.

“What you’re doing as a community will pay off,” Lovely said. “We can do this together. We can be a success story … We need you. We need you to do more than the basics, more than just social distance, more than just wash your hands every day. Stay at home as much as you can. Please avoid going to public places when you can. Wash your hands. Don’t be around your elderly family. Let people be isolated. Do phone calls. Do phone calls with your doctor. Don’t go to the doctor if you can avoid it. Do anything you can to avoid contact with other humans. Spread this thing out. And let’s let it blow over Tuscaloosa, and let’s be a success story together.”