Region 4 Office of Public Health Medical Director Dr. Tina Stefanski joined GMA on Friday, June 19, to provide an update on COVID-19 in Acadiana.
In a press conference on Thursday, June 18, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health identified the Acadiana Region, Region 4, as one area of concern due to the "alarming rise in new cases" of the novel coronavirus.
See more from Thursday's press conference: Edwards says Region 4 is among areas of the state that are concerning
Parishes like Lafayette, Acadia and St. Martin have seen the greatest increase in cases over the past few weeks.
KATC will update this article to share the questions and answers from this morning's talk with Dr. Stefanski.
Following GMA, Dr. Stefanski joined us LIVE on Facebook to continue the conversation and take questions from viewers.
When are we going to get back to normal?
"Unfortunately it looks like we're going to be dealing with this virus for the next several months. Until we get a vaccine. We did a great job lowering the infection rate over the last several months but unfortunately we're seeing the numbers rise again. It's going to be a while before we're out of the risk of this virus."
Dr. Stefanski says that simple measures are in place to prevent the virus from spreading like social distancing, wearing a mask when out in public, and washing hands. The preventative measures, while not something most are used to, will ensure that community numbers decrease and that we protect those most vulnerable, she says.
"It's a respiratory virus and we know how to prevent a respiratory virus. Until we have a vaccine, until we have good preventative measures, we know it's really about personal responsibility."
What's going to happen with schools in regard to COVID-19?
I don't think we have those answers just yet. I think everyone is watching these numbers and looking to see if our hospitalizations are going to increase.
Our school systems are doing a great job of preparing with different plans depending on what the spread in the community looks like at the time.
Classrooms could go back at 50 percent, perhaps with staggered schedules depending on what's happening in the community. Home schooling may also be choice that parents and schools make. We just don't know what school is going to look like in the fall.
There are lots and lots of conversations on how to protect children in the state right now.
Dr. Tina says that preparing your child for the possibility of returning to school where the atmosphere is different including wearing a mask and washing hands often is important.
"It is important to talk to children and listen to what they're hearing and what their concerns and feelings are."
Do masks really help?
At the onset of the pandemic, we were telling people that masks should only be used for healthcare workers. While the message still remains that only surgical or medical masks should be worn by medical professionals, we do encourage the public to wear masks to protect others from the virus. People who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic can spread the virus to other individuals when they cough, sneeze or talk. And so face coverings are absolutely helpful for individuals who are out in the public and cannot keep that 6-foot distance. In those instances, when you wear a face covering you are protecting people from the virus that you may be carrying and not know about it.
There have been increases in clusters at work sites where individuals have not been wearing face coverings.
What is the best type of mask to wear?
For people in the general public, we are asking them to wear a cloth face covering not a surgical mask or N-95 mask. The rule of thumb is that the face covering should be thick enough so that when you hold it up to the light you can't see through it. But not thick enough that it will restrict your breathing. Make sure to wash those masks often.
Should you wear mask outside?
If you are outside and can't maintain a distance of 6-feet, it is encouraged that you wear a face covering. If you are alone outside, face coverings are not a necessity.
How Long should you quarantine after exposure?
Quarantine is still two weeks or 14-days. If you are exposed to someone with the virus, it can take up to 14 days to begin showing symptoms of the virus. Most people do develop symptoms within 5 to 6 days after exposure to an individual with the virus.
If you are quarantined, the Louisiana Department of Health has a plan to support people who need food, medication or help.
Do we have enough contact tracers?
Right now the process is good. We have enough contact tracers for the number of cases in our area but there is a plan in place to hire more contact tracers if those become overwhelmed. This is a confidential process and is a tride and true public health process. They never disclose any personal information to any other individual.
In the workplace, Dr. Stefanski says that the department of health will only share guidance with businesses on how to go about testing employees and operating around exposure to the virus.
Will there be a spike as more places reopen?
When you see the cases go up that is an indication of activity from a couple weeks ago. But we are definitely seeing situations where individuals are testing positive and they have exposures. We can clearly see a path where we are going to continue to see an increase in the number of cases in the next few weeks. Some of this information comes anecdotally from health care providers who are seeing more positive patients coming into their practices and from their observations of the lack of community preventative measures.
Who is susceptible to the virus?
People 65 and older and individuals with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to the coronavirus. Those conditions include hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and obesity. Dr. Stefanski says that all of us are at risk, including younger individuals. Children and young adults often have milder symptoms that older individuals.
Some children have developed a serious inflammatory syndrome associated with the virus. That syndrome usually appears a month after the child is infected. Pediatricians also say that children of all ages can be affected and then spread the virus to more vulnerable individuals.
Have we seen a mutation in the virus?
There are lots of studies, but it is just to early to tell. There are geographical differences in the virus but are very typical of viruses. There hasn't been any reliably proven source to say the virus has mutated.
When will we see a vaccine?
The process has been quick. We're hoping by early 2021 that we will have a safe and effective vaccine for this virus.
What are some updated symptoms?
Those symptoms have definitely changed from the onset of the pandemic. What we are now finding is that people have no fever and no elevated temperatures with the virus. Lots of newly recognized symptoms include headache, body aches, back pain, body pain, sore throat and loss of sense of taste or smell.
Do Protests pose a risk for the contraction of coronavirus?
We may start to see those spikes now, but most of the current numbers are from weeks ago before the protests, rallies and marches began. For those who have participated, it is encouraged that they visit a drive-thru testing site to be tested.
Most of the increase has been from people out in the community and not following safety precautions. It is possible that we could see an increase in cases due to these gatherings.
Can you get tested if you have no symptoms?
Yes. Our testing capacity has opened up so anyone can go through the drive-thru testing sites. It may take a few days to receive your results, but anyone is able to be tested.
The testing sites are self-swab and you will be given directions on how to swab. The process is not painful and can be done quickly.
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