Each week, 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. It is aired via Cherokee Cablevision Channel 28 and livestreamed by Communications. Here is an edited transcript of the Q&A session on Thursday, Nov. 19. All answers presented below are from Dr. Bunio who has been in practice for more than 20 years.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, EBCI Public Health and Human Services released their updated COVID-19 numbers showing that CIHA is out of the ‘red’ risk level. Cherokee is currently in the orange and are below the daily averages of North Carolina and the region.
I see that you’re wearing an orange mask today, what does that say?
Well, we’re very excited. The community has stepped up and done what we’ve asked them to do. We’re out of the red and into the orange zone, well on our way to yellow.
What does it mean when we get to yellow?
The colors denote the risk level, and it’s determined by how many new cases we get per day on average. So, we’re getting few cases per day, and we just need to continue this trend.
We’re trending down while much of America is trending up. How proud of you of the community?
Incredibly proud. If you look on the internet and look at a map of this area, you’ll see Western North Carolina, depending on which map it is, we’re yellow and there’s red all around us. So, it’s important for us to realize that the community here is doing a great job. But we’ve got some holidays coming up, and if there’s travel people are coming here from those other red areas or if our people are traveling to red areas, that’s going to increase our risk.
We have an event coming on Tuesday. What’s happening?
We’re working with Public Health and Human Services, along with the hospital, and we’re planning on having a testing event. We were able to procure a number of rapid tests. These are pretty hard to come by right now, this particular one. But we have about 500 we want to use, and we want to invite the public to come and be tested. Right now, we’re working out the details, we think it’s going to be down at the Fairgrounds. You can come, have a test done, and the test will take about 15 minutes from the time we start processing it. Then you’ll have your result, and hopefully we’ll be able to find some cases that don’t even know they’re sick. And just make sure that they isolate so we keep going on the trend we’re going on right now.
What happens if you test positive at this event?
One of the things about the rapid test is that they’re not quite as accurate as the ones that we do every day. So, if you test positive, you may need to have another test. The more sensitive test to back it up. These tests occasionally have false positives. But if you test negative, for the most part we can rely on that. You really need someone to interpret the test for you. We’re going to try to be smart and use them strategically here right before this long weekend.
Does testing negative mean you can assume there are no worries?
No. That’s a good point, thanks for mentioning that. If you test negative, it is not permission to not follow the Three Ws and the safe practice that have got us to where we are today. So, over the holidays we want you to limit your Thanksgiving celebrations to your immediate family. Unless you can do something really safely outside with mask wearing and social distancing, things like that.
It’s important to practice the Three Ws even if you test negative?
Yeah. This disease has proven that you can test negative one day and then turn positive the very next day. It’s really hard to contain because there are so many people that don’t have symptoms. And those are the people we want to say, ‘hey, you’ve got symptoms, you’ve need to really isolate yourself.’ If we keep doing that, I think we’ll be okay until hopefully this vaccine works out. Again, some really exciting news. So, I just want the community to hang in there, keep doing what they’re doing. Because it’s been very impressive that we got from that high where we were at in mid-October to where we are now.