Sarah Reese also answered many questions about testing, procedures and if the county is "truly ready" if it "hits hard."
Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese gave the County Board of Commissioners a COVID-19 coronavirus update Tuesday morning over the phone during their virtual meeting and answered a long list of questions on topics like testing, procedures and if the county is “truly ready” if the virus “hits hard.”
District 1 Commissioner Jerry Jacobson asked Reese if the county’s hospitals were “truly ready” if the virus “hits hard” adding that he was curious how many ICU (intensive care units) the county had and how many ventilators they had on hand. “Are we ready for something?” he wondered.
Reese replied saying one the of the most important things about Governor Tim Walz’s “Stay at Home” order is to respond to people that currently have COVID-19 and prepare as it expands through Minnesota.
“One thing happening in the northwest region is health systems are working on what we call ‘surge plans’ and taking their current resources and expanding within their walls to have more beds available,” she explained. “They’re also working with emergency managers on the availability within the hospital and alternative settings.”
“I would be remiss to say we have all the resources we need and I can’t speak to the details of each health system, but I know our health systems have plans in place and are definitely articulating what resources are available,” Reese added. “The governor is really diligent to say we are trying to attain resources and we’re thankful for Minnesota businesses that are changing their work flow and patterns to have an output of a product and supply products that may respond to this need.”
Commissioner Chair Gary Willhite, District 3, asked Reese about the available testing for COVID-19 in the county and wondered what types of testing they had. Reese told the commissioners that tests in Polk County are done with their health care partners and each system either uses their own lab or an external lab which may be more extensive. She said, right now, there’s a process in place to use a nurse call line to see if testing is warranted. When a call is made, a nurse and the patient caller “work through” criteria and the patient is advised to come in for testing if the criteria applies.
Willhite wondered about antibody testing and was told there is no antibody test option available yet in Polk County nor are there any approved through the Department of Health, but partnerships are being explored. Willhite also touched on “rumors” that people were having to wait “days” to get COVID test results back and Reese told him, based on the hierarchy of testing, if people meet more of the criteria the test results are coming back quicker but the rate they’re processed depends on the health system.
“If people suspect they have COVID-related symptoms they should call their health system’s nurse line, especially if they’re over 70 (years of age), have lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or acute respiratory systems,” Reese suggested after being asked by Commissioner Jacobson what a person should do if they thought they had some symptoms of the virus.
When asked about wearing masks, Reese said Polk County Public Health plans on providing education later Tuesday on the “ever-evolving” guidance and recommendations from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) on the different types of masks used for different reasons. She said people need to be mindful of when to use them and not to have a false sense of security.
“Cloth face masks worn in public and when they’re used in medical ways are different; It gets confusing or dicey,” Reese explained. “I also think it’s important to know how you ‘don’ or ‘doff’ the masks, how you put it on and take it off. People touch their face a lot especially if they have something on they’re not used to. There are tons of germs every time and there’s a lot more to be considered when folks are wearing a mask. We’ll be putting out some messaging so watch for that.”
“What about timelines? It’s a real crap-shoot, I know. Any more information on when we’ll get a handle on this and try to get back to normal, wind down?” wondered District 5 Commissioner Don Diedrich. Reese was quick to say if she had a “magic 8-ball” she’d love to know that answer.
“I think the current environment will continue to change, our response, and our governor and Department of Health commissioner are using data to drive their predictions, using several places of modeling, and different research perspectives,” she stated. “I can’t speak to what the future looks like, but there’s reason to believe the stay-at-home order and community mitigation strategies, and how people are mindful of where to spend their time has been a good strategy.”