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Coastal Health District answers your questions about COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — WSAV.com NOW sat down with the Coastal Health District’s director, Dr. Lawton Davis, to answer your questions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

If you missed Wednesday’s livestream interview on WSAV.com/NOW, check out the full interview above and view Davis’s responses below.

WSAV: What is the Coastal Health District doing to ensure the safety of people in Savannah amid this coronavirus outbreak?

Davis: Right now, our efforts are focused in two areas. One is assisting the State Department of Health with surveillance with looking to see what’s happening in various communities.

The other would be communicating with our local partners to be sure they have the latest information and are prepared to respond.

At the state level, epidemiologists work with health providers and hospitals to identify cases of COVID-19, isolate those cases and then reach out to people who may have come into close contact with them.

With a confirmed case and our epidemiologists here, we’ll do the same thing at a local level. At the same time, we remain in close contact with our local leaders in our community.

We share information from the Department of Public Health and the CDC, everything about how schools might prepare and what organizers can do to lessen the risk of illness, what hospitals and health care providers need to know, and we also talk to the media to try to disseminate factual, up-to-date, current information.

WSAV: What are some of the myths and misinformation that have been floating around regarding COVID-19?

Davis: We often hear people say things like, ‘We know there’s a confirmed case at Hospital X, Y, Z’ or in a certain county because they heard it in a restaurant, or they think they overheard something at a doctor’s office.

I can assure you that when we have our first case of COVID-19 in a resident of Chatham County or any of the other eight counties in our health district, we will make a public announcement. This is not something we’re trying to hide.

Also, some people think that with commercial testing available in locations that they might be able just to walk into a private lab and have a test done.

That is not the case, all the tests still need to be requested by a health care provider.

A couple of the funnier rumors we’ve heard would include things like this virus targets people of certain races or ethnicities.

I can assure you that someone of Asian descent is no more likely to contract this virus than is anyone else.

You do not contract this virus because you eat in an ethnic restaurant. Finally, the best one of all, is that you can’t get this virus by drinking Corona beer.

WSAV: If someone were to experience symptoms related to the coronavirus, how soon might they experience those symptoms after exposure to the virus, and what are the symptoms to look out for? 

Davis: Based on what we’ve learned from similar viruses and so far in the history of this illness, symptoms usually occur in somewhere between two and 14 days after exposure.

The average time is five or six days, and the most common symptoms are fever, cough — a dry cough, usually — and shortness of breath.

WSAV: What can you tell us regarding a timeline for when a vaccine could become available in the future?

Davis: Well obviously, we all hope that we’ll have one sooner rather than later, but currently, we don’t have a vaccine. However, scientists around the world are working very hard to develop one.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases anticipates that an experimental vaccine would be ready for clinical testing hopefully within a few months.

However, even when that enters the initial phase of testing, it would still be some time, it’ll take time to adequately test the vaccine’s efficacy and its safety.

WSAV: Is the health department able to test for COVID-19? 

Davis: We do not have testing available in local health departments. The Georgia Public Health Lab in Atlanta does provide testing. Some of the commercial labs, like in this area, LabCorp, I know is testing.

I understand Quest has begun testing, but that may only be on the West Coast.

Currently, all testing must be ordered by health care providers. Someone who’s worried can’t just walk in and, you know, have a test done.

WSAV: How does testing work?

Davis: It’s two specimens. One is called a nasal pharyngeal swab, and one is an oral pharyngeal swab.

The pharynx is the back part of your throat, and as the name would imply, the nasal pharyngeal swab means you pass a swab or probe through one’s nose into the back of the throat.

It’s not as painful as you might think, but it also is not overly comfortable, so it’s not something that I would sign up for on a whim.

The oral pharyngeal swab involves going through the mouth to the same area.

WSAV: It’s been said time and time again during this outbreak, but can you remind people about the correct hand-washing technique they need to be doing regularly to protect themselves?

Davis:  That’s a great question, and one of those things you can’t hear too often. 

Just dabbing a little soap under your hands and sticking them under the sink for two or three seconds might do a little good, but not too much.

Moisten your hands, apply a generous amount of soap, scrub your hands together, rub them together, get the backs.

Interlace your fingers, rub in there, wash down to the base of your thumbs, try to rub and get under your fingernails; germs love to hide there.

Maybe even come up to the wrist. It should take you at least 20 seconds to do this. 

We’re fond of singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ the little jingle, through twice. 

If you don’t like ‘Happy Birthday,’ you can pick your favorite song and sing a verse or two of that.

We typically tell people to use warm water, but that’s mainly because people will generally leave their hands under the water longer if it’s warm than if it’s ice cold.

WSAV: We’ve seen that hand sanitizers and other disinfecting products are flying off the shelves; are hand sanitizers good at killing the coronavirus?

Davis: The best way to clean your hands is good old soap and water, particularly if they’re soiled and obviously dirty. 

However, studies have shown that an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol is the next best thing.

They seem to work better than the non-alcohol-based sanitizers.

Even with the sanitizer, you need to use it properly, so you apply a generous amount, you rub your hands together and make sure it’s everywhere, and you continue to rub your hands and release your fingers like you did when you were hand washing until it is dry, or evaporated. 

So, it’s not just ‘slap it on and you’re good to go,’ you need to continue to rub until it has evaporated. 

WSAV: If people do think they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, what should they do/where should they go? What are those essential next steps? 

Davis: If you think that you’ve realistically been exposed to someone with COVID-19, then you should stay at home and preferably away from other people and probably from your pets, as well. 

You would only go outside of your home to seek medical care, but you don’t seek medical care without first calling your health care provider and alerting them to the fact that you have a realistic chance of having been exposed, letting them know ahead of time before you go so that they can make arrangements on their end to care for you properly and to avoid exposing other people needlessly.

WSAV: What’s the proper way to self-quarantine, if it comes to this?

Davis: We encourage people to identify, if possible, a room in their house where they will stay themselves, and a separate bathroom, if available. 

You don’t go out, you encourage your friends and family not to visit, don’t share personal items such as glasses and dishes and silverware.

Use household cleaners to clean commonly touched surfaces such as door handles, tabletops, cell phones and keyboards.

We don’t particularly recommend face masks for most people, but if you’re caring for someone who’s sick, we would probably encourage the sick person to wear a mask while you’re in the room working with them, if possible, unless they have too much trouble breathing.


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