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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 03/27/2020

Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, you'll hear from Johnson County public health experts. They'll have details of this latest order, what it means for you, your family, and your work. They'll also address enforcement of the order and which businesses are considered essential. You'll also hear about the latest challenges within the healthcare system to keep up with the spread of the virus. We'll find out about testing priorities and the shortage of masks for healthcare workers.

Announcer [00:00:25] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed [00:00:39] Thanks for joining us from JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. As we continue to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, we're joined today by our public health experts, Dr. Joseph LeMaster and Dr. Sanmi Areola. They're here to talk about the most recent emergency order for the public, and they'll also talk about the latest efforts to combat this virus. To get us started, we're going to talk to Dr. LeMaster. He's the Johnson County public health officer. First of all, tell us about this latest order.

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:01:10] The March 22 order calls for stay at home. The idea behind this is that all residents in Johnson County should as much as possible stay at home, work at home starting from Tuesday, March the 24th. This will also give you the ability to access essential services like going to the grocery store, to the doctor, to the pharmacy, and all of those essential businesses that provide those services will continue to stay open.

Theresa Freed [00:01:46] So why are we doing this?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:01:48] The general problem that we are having that is driving the need to take this additional step is that the amount of transmission which is happening for the disease in the community is very difficult for us to be able to measure accurately with the limitation of testing that we have available. By taking these additional steps, we can both protect our critical care bed capacity and limit the transmission of the disease in our community to reduce the probability that we'll see an excessive number of deaths here.

Theresa Freed [00:02:30] And how long do you think we'll be doing this?

[00:02:32] The order is calls for this to go on for about 30 days. Within that period of time, it is our very steadfast and committed aim to set up systems of monitoring to determine how we are doing. We'd like to be able to see what's happening to our critical care bed capacity during that time, how much we're using that as well, if possible, to be able to get more indicators of transmission and how many cases there are in the community. Some of these things are dependent on getting the adequate amount of supplies. Some of them are dependent on getting set up the appropriate data systems. 30 days gives us enough time to get that to happen.

Theresa Freed [00:03:17] Is there any possibility that it could actually last longer than 30 days?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:03:21] So if by 30 days from now we're seeing a great increase in the number of people are in the hospital with critical care needs and an increase in the amount of transmission we likely will have to extend. But we can't say that until we get to that point. There's just so many unknowns between now and then that we still need to to wait to see what's going to happen by that point.

Theresa Freed [00:03:45] And why is it important to do this regionally?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:03:47] So you can imagine that if Johnson County had not done the stay at home rule and the other counties around us had done it, then what would happen is that people from the other counties might be coming into our county to try and access services or businesses or other types of activities that were not available in their own counties. This would potentially bring those people with perhaps an increased infection risk into our county or the other way around. So it just doesn't make any sense at all to do it on a county by county basis, by doing it together with the other counties. We can have consistency across the metro region and reduces a lot of the confusion that we'll otherwise have occur and also reduces the probability of more transmission happening. We want to be all together so we can get this under control together.

Theresa Freed [00:04:47] Has this been an effective step in other communities?

[00:04:48] At this point, it's the most it's the most stringent thing that we can do to try and limit the spread of transmission, given the amount of information that we have. So it's a little early to tell, but we're hoping that within a month from now we'll be able to have some good information about whether it worked or not. Certainly I think we'll be able to see if we see a sort of flattening of the curve and not a really big increase in the number of cases that are being admitted to hospitals and who are into the critical care beds. That will give us an indication by that time that it is working.

Theresa Freed [00:05:24] Can people still go outside the parks and on walking trails?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:05:28] Absolutely. The parks remain open. The walking trails remain open. We're asking people not to use playground equipment on those on those in those parks because of the possibility of people interacting or kids touching all of that playground equipment and other kids coming along afterwards, especially when there's crowding. We're limiting to some degree the capacity in those kind of places. But certainly we want to encourage people to go outside and still get fresh air and still do exercise, but maintain the social distancing policies that we've put in place otherwise.

Theresa Freed [00:06:05] And can people still go to work?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:06:07] The people that are working in the essential services will continue doing those that work. That includes quite a number of businesses in the community. Others should work from home if they possibly can. And there will be people that are not able to do either of those things.

Theresa Freed [00:06:26] And how will people know if their job is considered essential?

Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:06:29] The list of essential services will be in the public health order. So you can look there if you have questions. We have a hotline to be able to call to ask questions about whether that would in fact be the case. The list is pretty clear. And so we would ask if your business is not listed. We ask that you not call us or send us messages asking that it could be listed or could be included. Please try and do your best to stay to both the spirit and letter of the ordinance. That is the only way that we're going to be able to limit the spread of transmission. Stay strong, stay safe and stay home.

Theresa Freed [00:07:10] And now we'll hear from Dr. Sanmi Areola. He's the public health director for the Department of Health and Environment. Starting on the job in the middle of a very challenging time. We're happy to have you here. So can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:07:23] I have been in Nashville with a local public health department for the past 17 and a half years bbefore I came down to join the Johnson County. In that in that department, I played multiple roles. More recently as the interim director and the deputy director for several years working on different aspects of public health. My emphasis has always been to make sure we underscored the role of public in public health. Our goal is to ensure that we promote health for everyone in the county. We know that there are social factors that are important to health. We know that emotional health, physical health meant to have all of those things come together to help us promote health. We also know that how the community is one that really thrives and that's going to be my primary focus in Johnson County.

Theresa Freed [00:08:27] And how have you been preparing to step into this role?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:08:30] It's a very interesting time. Assessments and response to outbreaks is really at the core of what public health is about. We do that routinely, albeit not not on this scale. This scale is kind of a little bit different. And throughout my career and public health, I've dealt with multiple incidents from West Nile virus to Zika to several other public health outbreaks where our role remained to to assess the situation. And based on what we see, based on the data, based on this situation, to take steps, interventions to ensure that we protect the public from the adverse consequences of this kind of outbreak. And that's what we're trying to do. It's a serious situation, but we have tools, public tools that we have used in the past to make sure that we minimize the impact. We do require people, the public, to to walk with us. That's why we emphasize public in public health. We are asking people to to understand the reason for social distancing and the reason for a lot of the preventative steps that we're putting in place. We don't need to panic if we respect what we are putting out, what our leaders are putting out here in Johnson County with KDHE, at the federal level, with political system, with those message, those are designed to ensure that we minimize the spread of the of the coronavirus in the community. You may be healthy. You may be infected. You may not show serious symptoms, but you will contribute to spreading the disease. If you don't follow our rules, you may just spread that to somebody who's not as healthy as you can.

Theresa Freed [00:10:29] How would you describe Johnson County's response to this pandemic? Are we doing enough or when will we know if we need to do more?

[00:10:38] At Johnson County, we have taken steps that are timely, that are appropriate and in my opinion, that are adequate. It's serious because we don't have a full picture of what's going on in the community, which is not unusual. Very seldom do we have enough data that tells us everything. We often have to make decisions based on insufficient information, which is part of what we're doing. But, these are steps that have been tried in other places where this has happened at other times when similar outbreaks have happened. And if we get the appropriate level of cooperation, these should work engaged and stop in some way reduce the spread of this of this virus. We're working very hard to be able to develop metrics that we would use to track how well interventions are working to be able to make decisions as to when whether we need to increase the intensity of certain things or reduce them. But definitely we know that these decisions come with certain level of discomfort, actually pretty serious discomfort. Some people are unable to go to work. We are impacting what is a typical way of social interaction. We we get that. But we do know that these are very, very important things to do. In other places, in other countries, we have seen some of the really more serious consequences of this. Will it get a little bit more serious than it is? That's what's the prognosis seems to be across the country. Are the steps that we're taking useful and necessary to reduce the impact in Johnson County? Absolutely. We are going to it will be better if we get better cooperation from the public. So a message key message to you is we are putting this out for really, really important public health reasons. We can't do it without your cooperation. The more you cooperate, the better you cooperate, the better our community will be. Thank you for for working to to assist us in preventing these negative health consequences that could potentially be associated with or in others.

Theresa Freed [00:13:06] And what's the current situation with the tests? I hear there's a new test with results back in 45 minutes. Is that something that could be available here?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:13:13] We're hopeful that this will be available here. We hope with that, we get more tests. I think it's important for people to know that there's a very strong indication that the virus is here in the country. So you shouldn't you don't have to wait for a test to take the steps. Say you have mild symptoms. We don't need you to wait for this test or go and clog up system for people that absolutely need the test. That's why we are putting out guidelines for you to self-quarantine if you have if you have mild symptoms, if you've been exposed to somebody with that's confirmed. There are guidelines that are out there, including self isolation. We do need more testing to be able to get a good picture, but we're able to test at high risk people that provide testing for people that absolutely need that. Can that be improved? Absolutely. We don't have all of the resources that we need, but we're working very hard to be able to get more resources into that. The key message, though, is you don't have to wait for to be tested to take the steps to isolate yourself or quarantine yourself if that's necessary.

Theresa Freed [00:14:31] So are there likely to be more positive cases in our community that we don't even know about?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:14:35] One of the biggest concerns with the spread of the virus is quite a lot of people were healthy, asymptomatic, meaning no symptoms at all. Carry this virus and they are spreading that so symptoms cannot be the basis for you to determine whether you followed the recommendations or routes that we're putting out there. It is very possible for you to carry the disease, the virus and not show any symptoms. So we're asking you to follow the recommendations that we are putting, that that's the only way that we can curtail the spread and at least slowing down in some way a larger percentage of people that would be infected would show no symptoms to a very, very mild symptoms. And so there's not a time where we're going to test everyone. Largely, we would test out at our at-risk population of healthcare workers and first responders. Those would be priority. And then we want to have enough tests to be able to get a picture of what's going on. And again, track the effectiveness of interventions and make decisions as we move forward. But do not wait to be tested before you take the steps that we recommend.

Theresa Freed [00:15:57] Is there a need for more reusable masks for healthcare workers? And how do people help with that?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:16:01] For the most part, we're trying to follow guidelines from KDHE and CDC. And I know there's a lot of efforts going on in that regard that are different, different types of masks and respirators. And some of the ones that we think will work may not be quite as effective against this. We tried to track the level of those supplies with our local healthcare organizations. We don't have all that we need, but we have enough to do what we're doing now and we're going to keep working to get more, to make sure that healthcare workers are protected. Because that's also a big part of it. In other places, we've seen infection amongst healthcare workers. That's a critical infrastructure that we want to protect. Obviously, the longer this goes on, the more the challenge will be on those resources. But we're working with our healthcare organizations on tracking those things and clearly working with the state and the federal agencies to ensure that those supplies keep coming.

Theresa Freed [00:17:13] And how can we prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Dr. Sanmi Areola [00:17:16] The biggest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to follow the rules. A lot of them are common sense rules. Wash your hands and wash them long enough to be able to dislodge whatever will be there. That's why we say for at least 20 seconds and make sure you wash all of the corners there. Make sure you dislodge that and don't do that in a hurry. Some people sing, some people count 1000, 2000 to 20. But the premise is the same wash hand wash is still the best way to dislodge things when that's not available or in-between hand wash. We ask that you use hand sanitizers. Those are very helpful. If you have to sneeze, we ask that you sneeze into a tissue paper while you sneeze into a hand like that that will kind of reduce the opportunity for anything in the droplets to get into the air. We ask that you practice all that we've been saying about social distancing, which is research shows us that if you are within six feet of somebody for a period longer than 10 minutes, your risk goes up. So we're asking you to keep that distance, but also to reduce the time that you spend with people. But when you have to spend more than 10 minutes keep a 6 foot distance. We ask that if you touch surfaces again, this will linger in the environment. We ask that again you go, before you touch your body, your face, your mouth, your eyes, go and wash your hands again. It's amazing how simple it looks. But it's amazing how effective it is. If we just keep this basic hygiene of cleaning our hands sneezing the right way, because we will do that once in a while. And just understand the premises why social distancing is very important to controlling this virus.

Theresa Freed [00:19:10] For much more information, including regular daily updates, visit jocogov.org/coronavirus.

Announcer [00:19:18] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.