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COVID-19: Keeping you safe, getting reliable information on testing and flattening the curve

Kara Besst, President and CEO
Dr. John Brown, Chief Medical Officer

For all of the work and difficult sacrifices we have made in our region, it appears we are in the early stages of flattening the curve by slowing COVID-19 infections and transmission of the disease. The public is playing a critical role in making this possible through social distancing and isolating at home. This is very good news for public health and safety, as our actions—however difficult—are saving lives. We appreciate the efforts of Mayor Bill Lambert and Gov. Brad Little to institute policies that help protect the public. We are fortunate that Latah County has only three confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and no reported COVID-19 related deaths.

Continuing to take care of your regular health during the emergency is very important. Gritman Medical Center and our clinics are open for patient care and are safe for clinical visits. Our efforts to protect patients, clinicians and staff in our hospital and clinics—through masking requirements, phone pre-screening, visitor restrictions and more—are paying off. We have not had any confirmed positive patients admitted to the hospital and we have the capacity to care for patients with non-COVID concerns. In addition to in-person visits, most of our providers are now offering telemedicine visits, allowing you to have an appointment from the comfort and safety of your home.

Gritman has a sufficient supply of COVID-19 test kits and continues to test individuals who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing guidelines. How can we be certain that our response efforts are effective and beginning to flatten the curve at the local level? There are several sources of data we look to help us with this determination:

  • In Latah County, COVID-19 tests are collected by Gritman (either in our Emergency Department Mobile Respiratory Unit [EDMRU] or by Gritman | Moscow Family Medicine), CHAS and Moscow Medical. All test samples are collected by a registered nurse or provider trained in the proper COVID-19 collection techniques and processes.
  • Tests collected at Gritman are sent to the State of Idaho Laboratory in Boise or a private commercial laboratory for testing. On average, lab samples are returned in 3 to 5 days.
  • From the beginning, no one at Gritman meeting the testing guidelines established by the CDC has been turned away for COVID-19 testing.
  • The daily count of individuals calling the Gritman COVID-19 Hotline and using the text message online assessment tool has been slowly and steadily decreasing.
  • The daily count of individuals calling or presenting to our clinics and EDMRU with COVID-19 or other respiratory symptoms has been slowly and steadily decreasing.
  • To date, Gritman has not had a confirmed positive COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital. If the disease were spreading undetected in the community, we would be seeing more patients in respiratory distress.

But this virus does not recognize city, county, state or national borders. Whitman County has 14 confirmed positive cases and Nez Perce County has reported 29 confirmed or probable cases and 24% (10 of 41) of Idaho’s COVID-19 fatalities. We aren’t as isolated as it may seem.

We now know from data at home and abroad that COVID-19 is significantly more fatal than the seasonal flu. In just a few weeks, total confirmed deaths have now surpassed 30,000 in the United States and 140,000 globally. In New York City alone, up to 800 people have been confirmed to have died from the disease in a single day. By comparison, in 2019 the seasonal flu claimed approximately 34,000 lives in the United States over an entire year. Please do not be confused or misled—COVID-19 is not a typical flu.

We are still some time away from having mass testing capacity at the national level. And antibody testing used to determine if an individual has had prior exposure to the virus is still in the very early stages. So it is critically important to have an understanding of the most reliable facts and information as we plan for the next stages of our response.

We need to continue our good work to flatten the curve so we can see multiple, consecutive days with fewer and fewer positive test results. We also will be looking for declining rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities regionally and around the country.

We’re hopeful these positive indicators will continue to occur so our public health officials and leaders will be able to determine the best way to gradually reopen society over time. Working together, we can act in a way that will keep people safe while reducing the risk of a rise in infection rates and a return to broader community spread of the disease.

Please continue to work with your doctor to stay on top of your health during the COVID-19 emergency. Most of our services— from pain management and urology to our birthing center, surgery and much more—are open and ready to serve you and the ones you love.

Stay up to date with our response at gritman.org/coronavirus and gritman.org/clinics.