Chris McCoy, director of EBCI Communications, interviews Dr. Richard A. Bunio, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority executive clinical director, about current COVID-19 updates and news on Wednesday, Oct. 13. It is aired via Cherokee Cablevision Channel 28 and livestreamed by Communications.
All answers presented below are from Dr. Bunio who has been in practice for more than 20 years. Dr. Bunio complimented the health care workers at the hospital and public health service for their efforts.
How are we addressing the surge in cases?
The virus grows exponentially, which means it grows fast. And that is what we are seeing right now. What we are trying to do now is use the tools we have been using and were practicing before that were successful. One of the biggest one’s is contact tracing. It is really important that if you are unfortunate enough to catch this virus, then public health is going to contact you and they are going to do what is called contact tracing. They are going to ask you to try to remember who you were around for a significant length of time without a mask on. We will usually go back a couple of days before you were tested. This is extremely important. I can’t emphasize enough that if your phone rings please pick it up. Please answer the call. Please answer the questions. We are not trying to get anybody in trouble. We are just trying to protect this community. That (contact tracing and responding to the call) is going to be vital.
The second piece is that Public Health will tell you whether or not you should be tested. They will talk to you and help you understand if you really were at risk. And if you are, they are going to recommend you get a test.
We have seen this sudden surge that has kicked up over the last couple of weeks. If you look at the Facebook page, we are so far in the red that we had to make the graph bigger. We are up around 86 cases per day per 100,000. What that means is that we are seeing about eight or nine cases a day turning positive, whereas before we were at 2 to 3. So this is a big change. We knew it was coming. I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen this soon. It has overwhelmed the hotline and the testing team. But we have pulled people out of their jobs. We have sent them down there today. We are determined to get caught up and get everybody the test they need. So please bear with us. We are working as hard as we can.
What are some of the things we need to do as a community to be as safe as possible?
We need to do the things that we have been messaging all along. It is understandable that people have gotten tired. They want to see their families. They want to see their loved ones. They want to go out. But the majority of cases that we are seeing right now are tied to congregate settings. These are people getting together as a group, inside usually, although outside is not completely safe, without masks, and not social distancing. Those are contributing to a very large number of the cases. Then, of course, they go out and they go home, and the second big category is that it gets spread within the house. And that is hard to stop. It is hard to isolate someone within your house. If you can do it that is great. If not we just have to quarantine the whole house.
What are we facing with regard to quarantine?
Quarantine is where you have been exposed and you may get the virus. And there is what is called an incubation period. If you were exposed to someone, we are going to start counting from that date. We would recommend that you get tested at around six to eight days after that, because if you test too early, it is going to be negative. You could turn positive later. Even if you test negative, your quarantine is still fourteen days, because you could actually turn positive any day within that fourteen days.
I know that there are a lot of people who are anxious and want to get a test, and then they are hoping to go back to their lives but that is not the way this virus works. This virus can stay kind of incubating ten to twelve days. Most people will turn positive in those five or six days, but there are some that it takes longer so if you go out and get a test on day ten and it is negative, you still got four more days of quarantine. I don’t think people realize how important it is to quarantine. We know that people can start spreading the virus for a couple of days before they even feel sick. If you are not quarantining, even though you feel fine, and you go out, you could be passing the virus on to other people.
How do we get out of the red?
We have to double down on our efforts as individuals to protect this community. To wear the mask. Wait six feet apart. And wash our hands. I think it is particularly important over the next couple of weeks. People are going to get discouraged when they see that graph that keeps going up. When you start doubling down and following the guidance, it is going to take a couple of weeks to see the results.
This could be a silver lining. This could be a wake up call. If this hit us in the middle of winter, if people around Thanksgiving decided that big family gatherings were ok again, which they are not, then we could be in even bigger trouble than we are right now. So we have an opportunity to suppress this.
What is the risk if we don’t share our contacts?
The risk is that there are going to be people out here who are infected and don’t know it. And everybody out there who is spreading the virus, we have said, on average, are going to infect two people. We know of cases, they call them super spreader events, where one case early on in South Korea was tied to 5000 infections before it was over. And that was sort of that exponential growth. You know, she didn’t infect 5000 people but she probably infected about a hundred, then two hundred from those, then four hundred from those, and on.
I am not sure why people might be reluctant. For the most part I think people have been really cooperative and helped us. But I think there are some who I think are under the impression that their friends are going to be mad at them or their getting them in trouble. And you’re not. If you can warn somebody that they might be contagious, they should go get tested, so they can take precautions not to infect their children, their grandmother, I think, in the end, they would be thankful.