The Worldwide Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, which triggers further directions to implement additional measures to reduce/eliminate exposures. As organizational, civic and governmental leaders within our Wise County community, we have an obligation to do our part and impose measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19, to best protect our most vulnerable populations and health care systems.
At Wise Health System (WHS), we are having daily meetings to monitor the ever-changing situation, and adjust our plans and protocols accordingly. I am sending this email to provide what you will hopefully find as helpful guidance as you make decisions for your respective organizations. We do not yet have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Wise County, but I hope the information in this email and attachment will prove useful to each of you if we do have Wise County cases during the coming days and weeks, which our medical experts at WHS believe is likely.
This is certainly not the time for panic, and I hope this communication has the opposite effect of providing some information to allow all of you to lead your organizations well, without fear, and armed with guidance to make the best possible decisions. In that regard, I think some helpful background information is useful as we attempt to take a balanced approach to this situation.
As the numbers are indicating, most people who contract COVID-19 will likely recover. But as communities, measures we put in place to minimize the spread of the disease will help protect those members of our community who are the most vulnerable, and who are most at risk if they contract COVID-19. Additionally, minimizing spread will protect our health care system, not just WHS but the state and national system, which, frankly, is not equipped to handle the numbers and volume that the data indicates is coming. I have so much faith and confidence in the physicians, nurses, and other caregivers at WHS, and other hospitals across the nation. But, it is important to understand the simple impact of the numbers themselves. Reports vary somewhat, but indicate the United States has approximately 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which is fewer than Italy (3.2), China (4.3) and South Korea (12.3), all of which have struggled with COVID-19. Equally concerning is that there are only so many intensive care beds and ventilators. In Italy and other countries, they are making decisions to ration care and equipment, because there simply is not enough to go around.
Some are comparing this virus to the flu. While WHS agrees that, like the flu, the less vulnerable members of our population who contract COVID-19 will likely recover, it is important to remember that influenza numbers are spread out over eight months or more. They do not typically increase exponentially over the course of weeks, as COVID-19 cases are currently doing. As a result, COVID-19 may place a more immediate and significant strain on the health care system, and available equipment and beds.
Again, this information is not being provided to cause fear. Overall, we will work together and get through this unique situation. But, with this background in mind, it is my hope that we as leaders throughout Wise County will play our part in minimizing the spread of COVID-19. The goal is to “flatten the curve,” as referenced in this link.
Below are guidelines from the CDC for the implementation of mitigation strategies for COVID-19. Please review carefully and implement those that make the most sense for your respective organizations. Note there are pages in the below CDC document specific to (1) individuals and families at home, (2) schools/childcare, (3) assisted living facilities, senior living facilities, and adult day programs, (4) the workplace, (5) community and faith-based organizations, and (6) healthcare settings. I will highlight a few important recommendations from this document:
- Encourage staff to telework when feasible, particularly individuals at increased risk of severe illness
- Implement social distancing measures
- Cancel large gatherings (i.e., greater than 250 people)
- Limit non-essential travel
- WHS has cancelled a couple of its larger events that had been scheduled during the next 30 days. We encourage others to consider doing the same.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like further information, and I can get you in touch with the appropriate emergency management personnel within WHS. I also encourage you to be actively monitoring your various trade industry publications as this situation continues to progress.
And most of all, do not fear, but lead well. We are in this together.
Jason Wren, FACHE
President and CEO
Wise Health System
This guide is a framework for actions which local county leaders and organizations can recommend in their community to both prepare for and mitigate community transmission of COVID-19.