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Social distancing still urged while you shop or visit docs

As medical facilities here and businesses in other states begin to open up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some officials and doctors are warning patients to continue to practice social distancing as much as possible.

“COVID-19 is not the flu, and it’s not even comparable to the flu,” said Dr. Faris Khater, an infectious disease specialist at Mountain Comprehensive Health Care in Whitesburg. “COVID 19 is more contagious, there is no vaccine, and there is no cure.”

So far, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has infected more than 3.1 million people worldwide, and more than a million in the United States alone. A little more than a quarter of all deaths related to COVID-19 are in the United States. The number of deaths in the United States was 57,862, as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to Worldometer, or about 5.6 percent of those known to have it. In contrast, the flu kills about one-tenth of 1 percent of those known to be infected.

The percentage of people who tested who are positive for flu is about 0.4 percent, compared to about 8 percent with COVID-19. Khater said while the 8 percent figure is accurate, it varies from lab to lab. He said MCHC has tested about 100 people and has found no positives. ARH has found only 16 positives throughout its 13 hospital chain, or about 1.3 percent. The University of Kentucky, which does 200 tests a day, has found about 4 percent of those tested have the virus.

But, Khater said the numbers being tested are very small and will likely change as more tests are done, and as more people return to work and shopping.

“I hope not, but with reopening health care in the beginning, and opening the economy down the road, we’re going to see blips down the road. We have to maintain social distancing as we reopen the economy to keep these numbers down,” Khater said. “If we do see a surge as we reopen, we have to go back to social distancing as we are now and start closing things down again.”

Meanwhile, states to the south of Kentucky are reopening now, some with no or few restrictions. Beaches have reopened in Florida and South Carolina. Wide segments of the economy in Georgia have been reopened, including restaurants, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors. In Tennessee, restaurants and other businesses have gotten the go ahead to open despite rising numbers of infected people.

“I do see states opening up close to us like Tennessee and like Georgia, and that is a concern. As you know, COVID-19 doesn’t know the difference between state borders. It doesn’t know one place from another,” Khater said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in two weeks. I would still caution about travel to these states.”

He urged Kentuckians who do choose to travel to those states to wear masks and continue social distancing as suggested here.

“Still practice social distancing, wear masks, stay six feet away from each other, because we can still import cases from these states back to Kentucky,” Khater said.

Efforts to head off a surge here are continuing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has sent a Community Support Team to the Kentucky River Health District to the district health department to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

The team includes a doctor, a laboratorian, an infectious disease specialist, and epidemiologists, and has provided specialized training in personal protective equipment to seven nursing homes in the district.

The team has also been testing nursing home staff to confirm that asymptomatic individuals are not infected and unknowingly carrying the coronavirus into the facilities where it can be passed to patients.

“We are very excited that we have been selected as a site for one of the first CDC Community Support Teams in the nation,” KRDH Director Scott Lockard said in a written statement.

The health department did not have a list of the nursing homes staff trained by the CDC and Letcher Manor Administrator Carla Bishnoi declined to say whether the CDC had trained staff at her nursing home.

“I don’t wish to discuss that with you,” Bishnoi said.

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