InDEPTH with Brad Byrd: Deaconess Health System president on coronavirus

In Depth with Brad Byrd

(WEHT) — Brad Byrd talks to Deaconess Health President Dr. James Porter on March 19, 2020, the day three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the Tri-State area.


BB: Welcome to InDEPTH. Tonight our continuing look at the impact coronavirus is having on our lives. We are unique as individuals, but we are all sharing the risk in the middle of this health crisis. The general message is we will get through this, but it comes with a warning.

I’m joined tonight on the phone now by Dr. James Porter, he is the president of Deaconess Health System. Dr. Porter, you’re not mincing words. You put out a very calm video message on the Deaconess website. But on Facebook today you seemed to be very concerned, very worried that some people are just not taking the message in this fight against this virus seriously. Tell us your concerns.

JP: Well Brad, we just know that there are still lots of people out in the community who are out doing things that are just aren’t necessary and causing them to come in contact with other people and this virus spreads by person-to-person contact. We don’t have a vaccine, we don’t have any immunity to it. The only way we’re going to stop the spread of this illness in our community and in our country, really around the world is by people not having contact with each other so that we can stop spreading it.

BB: You said today on Facebook we might be able to keep this thing from spreading exponentially and I’ll happily be called the boy who cried wolf and then also in that post you said reports from physician colleagues in Italy and France are dire and we are a couple of weeks behind them on the same path. That being said, Italy has more than 3,400 deaths so far, 41,000 cases. Are you telling us that that conceivably could happen right here in our country soon?

JP: It could Brad and the ironic thing is if we’re successful with stopping the spread or at least we won’t stop it, if we’re successful with slowing the spread and as you’ve heard flattening the curve , it may make it appear to people that all this is unnecessary. That’s what we’re hoping for. What we’re seeing in those other countries are hospitals and intensive care units are overwhelmed with the numbers of patients that there are to take care of, and it really looks like a lot of it is because they didn’t heed the warnings early enough that people needed to stay home and stop having social interaction.

BB: And I know Deaconess is offering teleheath and curbside testing. Why is that so important for people to call first or go online first?

JP: Well healthcare workers are on the front line of this epidemic and one of the most important tasks that we have as leaders of the health system is try and keep our employees safe just as we try to keep our patients safe and care for them. And by calling ahead we’re able to be prepared and make sure that the people who care for patients and who are there to greet them are in the proper protective equipment so that we don’t have healthcare workers who get exposed and then either get ill or have to be home themselves for isolation.

BB: Two cases tested positive today by Deaconess, one in Western Kentucky. You’ve immersed yourself in internal medicine, what do you tell that person who is listening to this conversation right now to do?

JP: Well, the people who are positive just need to continue to monitor their condition, take their temperature, treat their symptoms as appropriate- fever medicine, cough medicine, and as long as they aren’t having significant difficulty breathing or shortness of air, there’s a good chance that they’ll be fine. If they start to see those symptoms progress, then obviously they need to reach back out, seek medical attention and about 20% of the people who get this it appears do need to be hospitalized so some folks will end up needing to be in the hospital, but hopefully the vast majority can stay home and recover there.

BB: People are asking Dr. Porter how long could we conceivably be living this way and by that I mean basically being quarantined in our homes and also the impact this is having on our everyday life as a society if you could briefly answer that question.

JP: I wish I could give you a great answer Brad. You know, we know with the flu where we do have some immunity and we have immunizations, we tend to see it be a 3-4 month period in a year. This is a virus that we have no herd immunity to and at this point, no immunization. We’re reading reports that people are saying we may have multiple phases of it and it could be as much as 18 months. The faster we put it out by staying away from each other and slowing the spread, hopefully the quicker we can get through this.

BB: Alright Dr. James Porter, the president of Deaconess Health System. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us tonight sir, and we’ll probably be undoubtedly talking to you again in the future.

JP: Thank you.

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