Doctor’s orders: Don’t panic

Longtime physicians Breen, Luithle offer advice on coronavirus

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Posted: Friday, March 20, 2020 6:00 am

Doctors at Sanford Hillsboro Medical Center have started testing patients for the coronavirus and expect to set up a COVID-19 curbside testing station in Hillsboro to help determine whether people are suffering from the illness.

But longtime Hillsboro physicians Chuck Breen and Tim Luithle caution residents who wake up with a cough or sore throat to avoid panicking or rushing in to see their doctors.

“What we’re seeing right now is a number of cases of influenza,” Luithle said Tuesday.

“If people are showing (COVID-19) symptoms they should certainly contact their local facility and let a medical professional make a decision on whether they need to come in. But the symptoms we’re seeing currently are most common with influenza.”

More than 500 people in North Dakota had been tested for the coronavirus through noon Thursday resulting in 15 positive cases, according to state health officials.

A Ward County man in his 60s, who has been recovering at home, was the state’s first positive case. 

Closer to home, the North Dakota Department of Health announced Tuesday afternoon that a woman in her 20s from Cass County also tested positive for the virus.

No individuals have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, but Sanford Hillsboro Medical Center has introduced a number of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus locally.

Breen and Luithle sat down with Banner editor Cole Short on Tuesday for a 30-minute question-and-answer session to discuss the coronavirus and offer advice for people worried about contracting COVID-19.

For starters, what do people need to know about the coronavirus in our area?

Breen: If we’re really diligent right now, it looks like we can do a good job of decreasing deaths and not inundating our hospitals. These first few weeks are the most important.

Who’s most at risk in our community?

Luithle: The elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

What symptoms should people expect from the virus and what is the incubation period?

Breen: Usually high fever, cough and shortness of breath. The incubation period is usually about three to five days.

How many days would a person have to be infected before a positive test?

Luithle: Two to nine days. The test can take three to five days after symptoms start to get the results back.

Have doctors in Hillsboro started testing people for the virus?

Breen: In Traill County, we have started with a couple tests. But we will have exponentially more by the end of the week. We will be doing curbside testing because we don’t want to bring them (into the clinic).

What sorts of steps is Sanford Hillsboro taking in regard to COVID-19?

Breen: We are keeping 6 feet of isolation between staff and holding no meetings of more than 10 people in a room. Then we are fully cleaning everything as we normally do. You can get in through only one door now and people are being screened and asked about their travel history and symptoms. And we’re not allowing visitors unless it is a hospital patient and then we’re only letting in one person.

Are there testing kits available currently in Hillsboro?

Luithle: Yes, they are available. But just like with influenza, most of us will be sent home and quarantined. Patients who are having respiratory difficulties or other medical conditions may be hospitalized, but right now we’re looking to Fargo for those directions so the system does not get overwhelmed.

What can be done in terms of treatment?

Luithle: People won’t be hospitalized just because they test positive.

Breen: It’s mostly supportive or oxygen. There is no proven medication (for COVID-19).

Is the coronavirus more contagious than influenza?

Breen: It’s 10 times more deadly for people past the age of 70. Those are the people we are worried about. It doesn’t seem to be affecting the young very much.

Can a person get the virus a second time?

Breen: We haven’t seen that yet but we expect that could happen. You’re going to see it develop immunity.

Can people request to be tested for COVID-19 or is that up to hospital staff?

Luithle: We will ask about fever, check their temp and then decide whether a test needs to happen and then you go home for three to five days until the answer comes back.

Can a person have influenza and COVID-19 simultaneously?

Luithle: Sure. That would suck.

Is the virus more contagious than the flu?

Breen: I’m not sure if we know that yet.

Luithle: I don’t think we can say. It’s kind of like the flu.

Will conditions get better in a couple months, or because North Dakota has had only one case (as of Tuesday), will things get worse in the summer?

Breen: The steps we are taking are to help avoid a spike. But we do expect it’s going to roll into early summer. We probably won’t have to do these harsh measures in May and June but there are still a lot of unknowns.

What steps can people take to prevent contracting the virus?

Breen: Put travel on hold. These are unprecedented times and we probably won’t go through anything like this again in our lifetime. All these efforts are to help someone else, and I think that part is comforting. In terms of other things, wash your hands. Clean the surfaces and practice social distancing.

Anything else people should keep in mind?

Luithle: Calm down and quit buying so much toilet paper. It’s a similar situation when you have the flu. Stay home and eat chicken soup. Stay away from grandma. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why there’s no track or softball season yet. We all just need to chill and think that if we save a life because we didn’t have an indoor track season, that it’s all worth it.

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