Ashley County has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and Ashley County Medical Center’s doctors and staff are asking the public to stay updated and remain calm.
The Ashley County case is one of 564 in the state as of Wednesday morning. Of the total cases in the state, 64 have required hospitalization and 23 have required the use of a ventilator. COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory distress and death. Eight people in Arkansas have died from the disease as of Tuesday.
Doctors and medical professionals are urging people to stay home and follow Center for Disease Control’s guidelines. They are also asking that people have patience during this time.
“We need people to stay home, and keep a level head,” Dr. Brad Walsh said.
Some in the community had expressed concern that ACMC and doctors’ offices weren’t testing for COVID-19 and were instead turning patients away to other hospitals such as Drew Memorial Health System in Monticello.
Doctors at ACMC have said that is not true and that testing is available in Ashley County for those who need it.
“We are absolutely doing testing, but we need people to understand that — like with any illness — there is protocol to follow,” Walsh said.
The symptoms of the disease known as COVID—19 resemble a group of other very common illnesses, Walsh said.
Because there is a declared pandemic, people who have symptoms they might normally treat at home or call their primary care physician about are panicking. Walsh said that COVID-19 could be severe in some patients and very mild in others.
“It is very likely that 80 to 85 percent of the people with this virus won’t even be hospitalized,” Walsh said.
Walsh said doctors need people to understand that some cases aren’t serious and won’t be hospitalized — because they don’t need to be — not because doctors are picking and choosing who to hospitalize or who to test.
Walsh said the doctors at ACMC and in the clinics are dedicated to treating everyone, but for some that means simply treating the symptoms at home.
Medical professionals are having a difficult time communicating the need to take COVID-19 seriously while also explaining that not everyone will need to be hospitalized.
Walsh said people will be treated in accordance with their symptoms. Those with severe symptoms could be hospitalized and those with mild symptoms will be monitored from home.
“We are treating the person’s symptoms and the more severe or high risk will require hospital treatment, but some will only see mild symptoms,” he said.
“That is true of any illness, we deal with things on a case by case basis.”
Walsh said doctors are required to follow guidelines given to them by the CDC —that all medical professionals have to follow before they can even give a test — but that doesn’t mean that people are being denied care.
“If you go to the doctor with an illness, they are going to evaluate you and they are going to determine if testing is necessary, no matter what type of illness it is,” Walsh said. “This (COVID-19) works the same way, we can not just test people at their request.”
Walsh said not only are tests limited, but they are trying to preserve as much as Personal Protective Equipment as they can. The resources needed to perform the tests — such as masks and other PPE — is very limited at this time and Walsh said they have to keep that in mind as well. Testing a person just because they requested it could not only be the unnecessary use of a test but of PPE as well.
“That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to do what is needed to take care of our patients,” Walsh said. “But we are doing our best to preserve the resources we have so that we can treat our patients.”
Walsh said doctors are heavily screening patients over the phone and trying to limit traffic in the hospital and clinics for the safety of the community and not to eliminate anyone from treatment. He said he is seeing a large number of patients via telemedicine.
“We still have the best interest of our patients in mind and though they may not understand, everything we are doing, it is what we believe is best for them,” Walsh said.
The Center for Disease Control instructions read to call your doctor if you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Walsh said, however, that those symptoms are so common and those symptoms are not the sole factor in deciding that a patient should be tested.
“Yes call your doctor if you have those symptoms, and from there your doctor will determine how to proceed,” he said.
Some will simply be told to stay home and Walsh said that doesn’t mean the doctor doesn’t care or is denying testing.
“If you need to be tested, you will be tested,” Walsh said. “If you need to be hospitalized you will be admitted, we are going to do our best to get you whatever treatment and tests you need.”
Walsh said that he understands people are scared and that this situation is a serious one, but the community really needs to focus on staying calm and doing their best to abide by CDC guidelines.
Walsh also said he believes ACMC is ahead of the curve and that they are well prepared to handle the cases as they come, but they need the community to do their part as well asking everyone to take staying at home seriously.
Walsh said that it is also important to remember that asking people to stay calm is not asking people to not take this matter seriously. He said it is pertinent right now for the safety of the community that people read and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Walsh said it is important that people only leave their home if they absolutely have to.
“We need everyone to stay home — that means don’t go gather at Walmart, don’t go to church and I know that is difficult, we all want to go to church, I want to go to church too, “ Walsh said. “(Following CDC guidelines) is definitely not easy to do, but it’s important.”
Walsh also pointed out that doctor’s offices were already a busy place and that other illnesses and needs for treatment did not stop just because of COVID-19 and he is still treating a variety of other illnesses and patients.
“We are working around the clock for the community and we need everyone to understand that we absolutely have patient care as a top priority,” Walsh said.
Those who have a true emergency should call or go to the emergency room depending on the severity. Walsh said symptoms that need emergency medical treatment have not changed, but because of the pandemic people are panicking with symptoms that do not necessarily need emergency care.
ACMC spokeswoman Caitlin Martin said that ACMC is constantly monitoring the situation and updating policies as necessary. Martin said when possible they are asking people -who are coming to the emergency room- to call ahead.
ACMC is taking steps in all departments to protect all of the patients. Dr. Mark Malloy is the medical representative on the infection control committee at ACMC and he said the hospital has various committees working hard against the COVID-19 pandemic and they have changed several things to keep the staff and the public safe.
“The rules are not to take away your freedom, it’s to keep you and everyone around you safe,” Malloy said.