Lost Rivers Medical Center Chief of Staff Danny Spencer said no one alive today has experienced anything like the novel coronavirus, but if people remain calm and follow basic rules, the virus will loosen its grip on Idaho.
“Try to minimize the anxiety,” Dr. Spencer said. “Don’t panic, practice good hygiene and if you’re sick, don’t go anywhere except to a doctor.”
Spencer said rural areas like Custer and Butte counties are fairly isolated from coronavirus hot spots. People tend not to travel out of their home areas here, Dr. Spencer said, so people from Challis, Mackay and Arco are less likely to come into contact with the virus.
“I don’t think the panic is here yet,” he said about Arco, where Lost Rivers hospital and clinic are located. “We don’t see a lot of people coming from high-risk areas.”
If the worst does occur and the coronavirus is confirmed in either Custer or Butte county, Dr. Spencer said Lost Rivers is prepared. To them it’s the same job, different virus.
“It’s just like the flu,” he said. “Same rules apply.”
Dr. Spencer said the policy at Lost Rivers for testing for the virus first begins by eliminating all other possible illnesses. Because supplies for handling the coronavirus are severely limited in rural Idaho, doctors and nurses need to be sure what’s ailing a person before dedicating resources to coronavirus.
If they do find a patient with the virus, Dr. Spencer said Lost Rivers personnel will inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send the patient to a larger, more equipped medical facility for treatment.
“Just like we’ve always had to,” he said.
However, once that patient is sent to a larger hospital, they face a slew of other issues, according to Dr. Spencer. Testing kits that confirm the coronavirus are limited in Idaho. Supplied by the federal government and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, it’s been a struggle to get those kits into the hands of Idaho doctors.
Spencer isn’t sure how many test kits are in Idaho, but he knows it’s not enough. More kits have been promised, but he doesn’t know when they will arrive.
People who are considering traveling to be tested in a bigger city where medical facilities may have more test kits available should reconsider, Dr. Spencer said. Traveling in and out of areas where the coronavirus has been confirmed, such as Ada and Twin Falls counties, could spread the illness.
Dr. Spencer said it is up to everyone to fight the spread of coronavirus. People can go about their daily lives, but they need to take commonsense measures such as social distancing. That means staying six feet apart and avoiding rooms with more than 10 people. The guidelines were implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Spencer agrees with them.
The coronavirus is highly contagious, he said, three times more infectious than influenza. So people need to take hygiene recommendations seriously and regularly wash their hands, disinfect items they’ve touched and maintain social distance. Through these practices Dr. Spencer said the virus will eventually level out.
He believes the biggest damage caused by the virus in rural areas like Custer and Butte counties will be to people’s minds. Fear is the real enemy. The response to the coronavirus is similar to how people allowed their fears to get the best of them with West Nile virus.
“People thought mosquitoes would be the end of the world, but they weren’t,” he said. “This is going to pass soon. Be patient, we’re here if you need us, and as a community, things are going to be OK.”