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, Jan. 7. All answers presented below are from Dr. Bunio who has been in practice for more than 20 years.
What is the state of the hospital for folks coming in to seek care for COVID-19?
Well, we’re trying to keep up. I will tell you all of Western North Carolina right now is experiencing a big surge. We are having trouble getting people beds if they need to be transferred to an ICU or a higher level of care. This is the worst it has ever been. And I’m not sure we’ve seen all of the effects of the Christmas and New Years holiday yet. I think this is the time where everybody has to be knowledgeable and do the right thing.
If someone participated in a family gathering, what would you recommend to them at this point?
Well, if they’ve already participated in the family gathering, I wish they hadn’t, but if they did, I think they should just be monitoring themselves. If they feel sick, they should start to isolate themselves and go get a test. If you are that person that was at that family gathering, if you feel sick go get tested and tell everybody that was there. We talked before we came on camera where the systems where people are getting called for contact tracing are being overwhelmed right now. And so, it may be time for every one of us to take responsibility and say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to potentially infect people, but I’m going to call all of the people that I was around. Let them know so that they can get tested.’
If you have tested positive for COVID-19 but feel fine, what should you do?
You should stay at home for 10 days. And if you have no fever and you feel well for all of those 10 days, then you’re done.
Say I feel bad on the sixth day, what do I do?
Hopefully you’re not feeling good but you’re not feeling real bad. We want to you to stay home; the ER is there for you be we don’t want you to have to come to the ER unless you’re starting to feel short of breath and feel real bad.
Why is that?
Well, most people can get over this on their own. And the ER is getting really crowded and overrun. Because we can’t get patients as quickly as we could before to intensive care beds, the rooms in the ER are filling up. If you can be managed from home, we want you to stay home. But as far as what do you do in terms of when do you start leaving the house, if you’re feeling sick, call your primary care team, call public health for some advice. Because then the 10 days might need to be extended. It’s never shorter than 10 days if you have COVID.
The ER is there, we’re just trying to reserve that for folks that need it most.
We all remember, those no medicine for this. Tylenol, ibuprofen, drink lots of fluids, do the stuff you would’ve normally done for the flu or a cold and see if you can’t just wait it out.
We’re saying this because a lot of people are sitting at home waiting for a phone call, but there might not be a phone call immediately due to workload.
Yeah, the general rule is that once we get a person into the system, they should get a phone call within 48 hours. But it may have taken a couple days for the test to be run. Sometimes people are sitting there, and it’s been four or five days and they’re starting to get nervous. Just be aware that someone will be reaching out to you. As long as you’re feeling okay, you’ve got 10 days anyway. Just hunker down and someone will be in touch with you. And if they’re not and it’s been more than 48 hours since your positive test, then you can reach out to public health.
If I’ve just been COVID exposed, how long should I stay home?
COVID exposure, first of all we want to make sure that you were really exposed, and that’s 15 minutes within six feet. And so, if you meet that definition. If you know someone that was COVID positive and you were next to them for a total of 15 minutes, it could be five minutes and then you walk away and then another five minutes and another five. If you have 15 minutes of exposure within six feet of that person, you’re a direct contact. That means you go into quarantine. The general quarantine for someone that feels good, 10 days. Again, remember, 10 days. That’s for if you feel good for every one of those 10 days.
Should I quarantine if I have been exposed and haven’t received a call?
You should assume that you might be affected. You might be asymptomatic. We do encourage those who are direct contacts to get tested around day six or so. And the reason for doing that, even if you feel good, is to find out if you’ve infected someone without knowing it. We need to know if you’re COVID positive or not. For the most part, count 10 days on your calendar and plan to stay home.
What else should we know for the next stretch of time?
It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about ever since this started. Wear your mask, social distance, wash your hands. Don’t get sick, don’t be a contact. There are a number of cases where people just let their guard down for a minute. We say 15 minutes, but somebody’s who’s coughing and sneezing, all you have to do is breathe in.
Especially when we take into consideration the new strains of the virus.
We’re really nervous about that, and we know that’s in the United States already. We’re hopeful that once we deploy the vaccine and everyone keeps doing this, we’ll get the pandemic to where the numbers are going down. And if the numbers go down, then the chance of you getting next to someone at the drugstore or the grocery store go down, and we can start getting back to some normal. But it will take a while.
What do you recommend for folks that want to eat out?
There’s a risk every time you go out and take your mask off, there’s risk that you might be spreading it. Sometimes it depends on how the air is flowing in the restaurant. I do a lot of take-out, because I want to support local restaurants and I like good food. I personally am not real comfortable going out to restaurants just yet. I know a lot of restaurants and the governor issues order on decreasing capacity in the restaurant, that helps.
We’re seeing a lot spread at family gatherings, I think that’s a big one. That’s tough to have a family gathering right now, especially as we went through holidays. But restaurants are up there as another potential place of spread.