Angelia reports: WRHS CEO Gary Paxson and Dr. Adam Gray weigh in on virus

By Angelia Roberts

Contributor’s note: The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical experts Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation. I came away from the meeting feeling better informed.

“We’ve got something at our doorstep that we are going to deal with one way or another.”

Dr. Adam Gray

When Dr. Adam Gray, who serves as the Izard County Health Officer, and Gary Paxson, who serves as CEO of White River Health System, spoke to a small group of medical personnel, first responders, business owners, law enforcement officers and others Monday night at Ozarka College in Melbourne, seating was limited and everyone was screened before being admitted.

Paxson gave an overview of the Coronavirus, and said there is a lot of noise on social media.

“The goal is to give you some facts, some reality of what is going on.”

“People are saying we are overreacting and it’s not real. I’m here to tell you it is real. It is a very real, very contagious virus.”

He explained it is usually obtained through person-to-person contact which is why social distancing is important.

Studies show the people most affected are more than 65 years of age, but that does not mean a 20-year-old person won’t contract it.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is telling us it very likely will hit all our communities.”

Paxson talked about some safety measures the Batesville facilities have already put into place as precautionary measures.

He said 20 percent have the potential to be hospitalized, and 5 percent could become critically ill. It is of high importance to have the required staff and enough supplies.

In order to flatten the curve, a term that means to slow down the infection time frame, schools are being closed, businesses are changing guidelines, and officials are urging social distancing. People are being told they should avoid large gatherings and with the latest number being no more than 10 people gathered together.

Paxson said the virus is extremely contagious and there is a limit to what the health industry can handle.

Shutting things down and asking people to quarantine can help spread the infection transmission throughout a longer time period.

“It is recoverable, but there is no vaccine for it. We are prepared and we have been talking about this, like Dr. Gray said, for weeks. We have a plan that is set in place. We started screening before there was ever a case in the state of Arkansas.”

Paxson said he could not express enough the need for people to get correct information from reputable sources, such as the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health, Surgeon General and others.

“We will probably have a patient at some point, and at that point we will lock that unit down. We will most likely go to no visitors in our hospital. Our nursing homes are already there.”

—Gary Paxson

He also addressed people who are hoarding supplies. “It’s a terrible idea for our society.”

“We’ve had people who are business owners call and ask if one of their employees has been tested. If someone is tested and that test comes back positive we are mandated to report that to the Department of Health,” Paxson said. “That agency will do extensive questioning of who that person has come in contact with and track those people down to let them know they have been at risk.”

Those results are not immediate. It can take up to four days.

In the meantime, people are being told to continually wash their hands and avoid as much contact with others as possible.

Paxson said people should sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands, and those who use hand sanitizer should make sure their hands are dry, because it doesn’t work if they are still wet.

He also addressed people who are wearing masks in public, saying people are not wearing the required mask to give them protection from the virus, plus it is causing a shortage in hospitals, nursing homes and first responder units. Those facilities need them.

“If you do contract this virus, research is showing the wearing of that (particular) mask is ineffective.”

While there is a growing concern of people wondering if they might have symptoms, Paxson said the hospital cannot randomly test people at this time. “If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s not appropriate to do so. We have to preserve the resources we have.”

He said physicians are going to screen and rule out other sources of infection before giving the OK to test for this particular virus.

“We feel like we are prepared. We’re treating this as if it is going to come. And when it comes, our staff is prepared and ready.”

—Gary Paxson

“We are evidence-based, and numbers-driven,” Gray said.

The average person will give the flu from one and a half to 5 people.

The problem with this virus is that it affects an even high number with studies showing how one person can give it to anywhere from 6 to 8 people in about 6 days.

Gray talked about the math curve and how it doubles over a certain period of time.

Doubling time, in this instance, has been measured at about 6 days.

“Sixty days into this – at the rate it is going and with the known cases we have right now – we could potentially have from 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the state of Arkansas within about a 30-day period.”

He gave an example of having 100,000 cases in 60 days and if 15 percent needed to be hospitalized they would need 15,000 beds. Arkansas has approximately 8,000 beds at this time.

“We can’t let it get there. We are not trying to scare anyone, we are just trying to stay ahead of it,” Gray said.

Looking at the statistics from China and Italy, Gray said we have an opportunity to learn from them.

He said China handled it very poorly and took a communist approach by quarantining 60 million people with guns pointed at them. “Which you can’t do here,” he said.

Gray pointed out that Italy didn’t get behind the curve fast enough which caused it to spin out of control.

“Their health system got inundated and they are having to make choices that no doctor or family wants to ever have to make.”

Dr. Adam Gray

“We are not freaking out. We know that probably 60 to 70 percent in the next four months is going to contract this and I would rather spread that out over 12 months instead of the next 60 days. This is a preparatory response, not a reactionary one,” Gray said.

Living in Arkansas does have its rewards, Gray said.

“I think Izard County Arkansas is the one place I want to be if something like this happens, because we are at the end of the world. They (Italy and China) are telling us to get people away from each other, and slow the disease down.”

“Most of the people in this county think alike, really. We look alike. We think alike. We pray alike. Half think the government is out to get us and have been prepping for a long time. We have canned goods in our basements. We are prepared for this. We are going to be fine.”

In closing Gray reminded everyone that we are all in this together.

“We have to lock arms and come together as a community and find out how to mitigate this. If we do the right thing – bend, don’t break – we will come out on the other side.”

Angelia Roberts is a seasoned reporter who has served the Independence, Sharp, and Izard county areas for decades, previously as Managing Editor of the Batesville Daily Guard, and now as publisher of Next Door Magazine. She is one of the most well-known, experienced, and APA-awarded news journalists in the state.

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