To my community

Amy Lepage, M.d.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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Dr. Amy LePage

We are experiencing an unprecedented world health pandemic. We have never had a serious illness so easily spread during a time when our large population has such easy access to transportation.

Though we have all faced hardships and lived through traumatic events, it is difficult to compare these to the current Coronavirus outbreak. Most people living today have never had to make significant sacrifices for the greater good of society. No one imagined that the sacrifice we would be asked to make would be social distancing. We pictured limiting food, rationing supplies or hiding in the woods for a while. Instead, we are being asked to sit at home; physi cally separate yourself from others to stop the spread of a virus. Just stay home, don't meet others for coffee or a beer, don't have play dates or let your teenagers hang out with friends. Instead, work from home if possible and send just one family member to the store or out to run essential errands once a week. Yes, it is a sacrifice, and not nearly as exciting as “bugging out” to your apocalypse safe zone in the mountains, but it is a pretty simple and straight forward request. Too many people are finding this either unnecessary or hard to follow. If we aren't all in this together, it won't work. Montana has the advantage of being a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country so we can look at Seattle and New York to see what is potentially headed our way. With social distancing, we might prevent a tsunami and hope for a smaller wave of illness. Please, don't be the person that didn't know they were sick yet and spread it to others.

Will social distancing work? We have never had to try it with a world population of 8 billion people so we simply don’t know the full answer. It certainly has the potential to slow the spread and that is definitely what we need. Our healthcare system cannot handle a massive wave of critically ill people. Lewistown has a 25-bed critical access hospital without an ICU. We cannot simply transfer patients to Billings or Great Falls because they will also be full. Currently, our hospital is figuring out how to transform into a multibed ICU facility for very sick patients with our limited equipment and staff. We still have to care for the heart attacks, strokes, and ankle sprains. Now we are figuring out how to add a massive wave of Coronavirus patients that range from the "worried well" to the deathly ill. We have to figure out how to do this while wearing full protective gear, which is also in limited supply. We have to follow the guidelines of how to use the limited number of tests and not allow visitors who will potentially spread the virus to hospital staff and other patients. We all have to figure out how to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy even when our daily lives are much different than they were a few weeks ago. Despite feelings of fear and uncertainty, we all have to work together and we will get through this pandemic.

So, what can you do? To start with: stay home. Stay home if you are feeling completely well. Stay home if you are sick. Stay home if you are old or young. Physically distancing yourself will help prevent the rapid spread and give researchers, hospitals, medical staff, and society time to figure out how to limit the number of deaths. If you are sick or think you have Coronavirus: stay home, take Tylenol for your fever and drink more water. If you have extreme trouble breathing or severe symptoms, call your doctor or the hospital to find out where you should go for help.

The science and information are changing daily as new data becomes available. This means recommendations will change frequently; keep yourself informed. In the end, be kind and patient, everyone is in this together.

Dr. Amy LePage is chief of staff and emergency medicine physician at the Central Montana Medical Center.

Poll

Do you think the coronavirus will spread into Central Montana?