Here are key takeaways from KET’s April 10 program on the spread of coronavirus-19 disease, called COVID-19, in Kentucky:
Answers to New Viewer Questions About COVID-19
- For those quarantined or isolated at home and who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, are there any additional steps we can take to prevent getting infected, or to protect those living with us?
Anyone showing symptoms and who is sharing a home with others needs to isolate themselves away from those people, says Dr. Sarah Moyer, M.D., director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. “If you have an extra bedroom that you can stay in, and people can bring you food, that’s ideal,” she says. “If you don’t have that, find a separate area of the house where you can stay at least six feet away, and try not to contaminate any surfaces or other places in the house where your family members might be in contact with.”
Dr. Moyer also recommends constantly cleaning highly touched surfaces – light switches, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures – and taking Tylenol and drinking lots of fluids until the symptoms subside. It usually takes one to two weeks after symptoms first appear for a person to recover from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- If I am taking care of someone who is infected with COVID-19, can I go outside the home?
“If you’re taking care of someone who is infected, you’re considered a contact to that person,” Dr. Moyer says. “You need to be quarantining, staying in the house the entire time the person you’re taking care of is sick, and then for 14 days after that.”
Dr. Moyer explains that this 14-day guideline also applies to persons living with a person who has symptoms of COVID-19 but who has not been tested. The person with symptoms should contact their health provider by phone and answer screening questions. If the health provider determines that a person in the house has COVID-19, all other persons living with them also need to self-isolate. Dr. Moyer recommends reaching out to family, friends, and neighbors to help by getting food and medicine during the quarantine period.
- When we start going out in public again, won’t this epidemic begin anew?
Dr. Moyer says that by the time state government allows some businesses to open back up and eases advisories on going out in public, the hope is that public health departments will have scaled up testing for COVID-19, which will enable them to find new persons infected with the virus quickly and then isolate them. “It’s going to take the entire community working together to make sure that people who are sick stay home, and to let the rest of us continue to go to work and try to get back to as much of the ‘old normal’ of life as possible,” she says.
- Can constant hydration, such as drinking warm liquids, gargling with salt water, and using nasal sprays, reduce the potential of the coronavirus infecting our lungs?
Dr. Moyer says that she has not seen any evidence suggesting that increased hydration reduces the chance of infection. She recommends taking steps to keep your immune system robust, such as getting eight hours of sleep, eating nutritious food, taking vitamins, and maintaining other healthy habits as the best practices to help you avoid infection or fight the disease should you get it.
- What effect does long hair or facial hair have on the coronavirus? Does letting a beard grow during this time make you more susceptible?
Around the world, many health care workers have shaved facial hair during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dr. Moyer says they’re doing to in order to wear their N95 masks more snugly. “As long as you’re not a health care provider and needing that N95 mask to fit tightly on your face, then facial hair is probably fine to keep in whatever your fashion is – there is no issue with it,” she advises.
Resources for Kentuckians in Need of Assistance
Since state government closed non-essential businesses in March and issued advisories against large gatherings and travel, many Kentuckians have lost their jobs and health benefits. As a result, there has been a huge upsurge of people filing for public assistance over the past month, says Eric Friedlander, secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
“Across the commonwealth, what I see is people are doing a really good job with the social distancing, but what we need and what we can do is help our health system stand up and get our people eligible for services,” Friedlander says. “I think that’s really important. It helps with our health care providers, and it gets people fed. Those are the kinds of things I really think we need to do, and we can do.”
In addition to offering expanded unemployment benefits, which were discussed in the April 3 episode of this show, state government is also helping citizens gain health care coverage they may have lost through their employer. Many of these Kentuckians are eligible for Medicaid under the expansion of that federal-state government health care program, Friedlander says that there are several ways to apply for benefits.
Persons can sign up for expanded Medicaid through the state’s Benefind website at benefind.ky.gov, or call 1-855-459-6328. Many of the newly unemployed may qualify for Medicaid, Friedlander says. Another option for those who may have lost their employer coverage but who receive unemployment insurance that is above the threshold for Medicaid benefits is enrolling in a health insurance program offered through the Affordable Care Act. The website to enroll for ACA plans is healthbenefitexchange.ky.gov.
“We’ve done a lot with what we call presumptive eligibility – what that means is, we assume you’re going to be eligible,” Friedlander says. “And so, we’ve taken a 20-page application and made it one page.” He explains that this streamlined application should make the process much easier and faster, which will in turn help health care providers get paid faster as well.
Over 1.3 million Kentuckians are currently eligible for Medicaid, according to Friedlander, and he estimates that about 2,000 people per day are applying during the COVID-19 crisis. He adds that CHFS will be checking new unemployment insurance claims as well and reaching out to those applicants to see if they are eligible for health coverage under Medicaid.
More folks are also applying for assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Friedlander says. SNAP, which for years was commonly known as food stamps assistance, offers a stipend for food to Kentuckians on a limited income. SNAP benefits vary based on income and are provided via an electronic benefits transfer debit card. Those needing assistance should visit the state’s Benefind website listed above or call 1-855-306-8959.
“We’re actually seeing greater increases in folks signing up for SNAP, our food assistance program, than for Medicaid at this point,” Friedlander says. “We are seeing about a 5,000-6,000 increase per day.”
CHFS coordinates with food delivery programs such as Meals on Wheels (which delivers to seniors) through SNAP, and Friedlander says there has been an increase of 150-180 percent in food delivery to this vulnerable population during the pandemic. “It’s been a great team effort,” he says. “Other restaurants are providing meals, lots of volunteers have been going out. It’s one of those great stories about how we work and live together and support each other as Kentuckians.”
Women who are pregnant and/or who have children ages 1-5 can also seek assistance through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program by contacting their local health department via the directory at 1-877-597-0367. The WIC program provides formula and food for mothers caring for their young children during a critical time.
Kentuckians struggling with substance use disorder are at higher risk of spiraling out of control during the COVID-19 pandemic, Friedlander says. “This kind of stress that we’re going through right now, it really can be a trigger for substance use,” he explains. “If you are using right now, or if you have a loved one that’s using, really, now’s the time to stop and begin your recovery.”
Those seeking help can get it through the findhelpnowky.org website, by calling 1-833-8KY-HELP, or by texting HOPE to 96714. “There are resources out there,” Friedlander says. “We have expanded what we call telehealth medicine, that means people can go online and get help. I have seen some really creative 12-step programs where those groups have met in a Zoom format.”
The CHFS secretary adds that right now there are still beds available for persons seeking recovery at several facilities in Kentucky, despite the medical situation. “Any time that you smoke or vape, you’re setting yourself up to be a little more vulnerable to this disease,” he says.
Since most people are practicing social distancing to halt the spread of COVID-19, Friedlander says that CHFS has encouraged as many home health services as possible to be provided through telemedicine. However, he acknowledges that some services still need to be provided in person, especially if a patient needs urgent care.
“We’re really encouraging folks to use telehealth as much as possible, but if (home health aides) go in, they need to try to use that personal protective equipment,” he says. “At this point, across the commonwealth and across the nation there really is a shortage of that kind of equipment.”