Article Written By: Justin Scacco
The first reported case of COVID-19 popped up in eastern Nevada County in mid-March, and since then the Tahoe Forest Health System has seen positive lab test results in 36 individuals from multiple counties.
Following a 50% surge in positive cases from Thursday, March 26, to Wednesday, the hospital is stressing the importance of following a disciplined, healthy shelter-in-place program.
“In my view, 95% of our success in slowing down the growth of this COVID-19 virus is if every resident up here will really take seriously the CDC guidance for sheltering properly in place,” said Tahoe Forest Health System President and CEO Harry Weis.
Part of sheltering in place, according to Weis, includes implementing a robust strategy for creating mental and physical wellness. He stressed the importance of healthy dietary choices, exercise, reaching out to friends and family by phone, and doing random acts of kindness.
Weis also said the hospital has seen several individuals admitted due to avoidable circumstances, namely excessive drinking.
“In some cases, individuals are choosing to drink in an excessive or unhealthy way and becoming extremely ill while they are sheltering in place, and then they are coming to the hospital gravely ill, even requiring as much as intensive care,” said Weis. “It’s very important that every person operate in a thoughtful and holistic way.”
Individuals needing medical care due to excessive drinking strain a medical staff and resources that are already dealing with and preparing for more cases of COVID-19.
While some hospitals in major cities are seeing a crunch in supplies, staff, and other resources, Weis said Tahoe Forest Health System has yet to face those problems, but the hospital is seeing a shortage in lab collection kits.
The shortage of collection kits along with so many other hospitals submitting tests has pushed the turnaround from test to result from around four days to up to a week. The hospital has made several pleas to get the chemical agents needed to perform tests in-house, according to Weis, but at this time, still has to send out the tests.
Truckee infection rate
Health officials estimate that around 0.2% of the population in the area is infected with COVID-19, which, according to Weis, is roughly seven to 10 times higher than the rest of California.
“One of the things that we do observe, if you look at some of the ski towns in America, like Sun Valley, Idaho, a small community … they probably have twice the number of positive lab test results than we have,” said Weis. “There’s something about people who live in ski resort towns not liking shelter in place, and not doing it well. Plus, you add some element of second homeowners.”
When the first case of COVID-19 appeared in the area, Weis said health officials believed that the number of people infected could be kept at a minimum. While he still holds that sentiment, so long as individuals practice proper shelter-in-place techniques, Weis said he believes many individuals in the past couple of weeks could’ve done a better job of social distancing.
“I do believe, just on casual observation, there’s quite a bit of non-essential travel going on in our region, and possibly not the proper social distancing. That’s where each individual has to evaluate what has their daily agenda been like,” he said.
“My message to our local residents is that 95% of our success going forward will solely depend on how fully and carefully we follow a quality shelter-in-place set of guidelines. If our residents choose not to do that, it’s anybody’s guess as to how high the percentage of infection rate could elevate to, but if people will take it seriously, my hope is we can keep this infection rate below 1% … we will have tremendous surge in hospital activity if we go from where we are now, up to 1% infection rate. We would like to avoid that.”
On the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 are health-care workers, putting in strenuous hours and taking personal risks of infection in order to help others.
At Tahoe Forest Hospital, a handful of the roughly 1,050-member health-care team has tested positive for coronavirus, according to Weis.
“We have a very caring team, who really love this community deeply,” said Weis. “They’re putting their all on the line on the front lines. It’s very common for health-care workers to become ill. The parallel would be like soldiers becoming injured or even dying. In some countries the total number of infected individuals could include up to 15% health-care workers.”
The health-care workers who have tested positive for coronavirus are self-quarantining at home, according to Weis, and each employee at the hospital is screened daily for any symptoms upon beginning their shift.
Weis also said that there have been no deaths in the area due to the coronavirus and no patients are in serious or life-threatening conditions at this time. He also said that health officials estimate the surge of infections will last about four weeks, “especially if people do not take shelter in place in a disciplined way.”
The hospital has restrictions on patients coming to any of its physician offices unless there is an urgent medical condition. If there is a medical issue that can’t wait and is not COVID-19 related, call to schedule an urgent provider office visit at 530-582-6205. If you are experiencing fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call the Tahoe Forest Health System COVID-19 Hotline at 530-582-3450.
“Make sure that you’re doing things that promote mental and physical wellness and that you’re eating a healthy diet, drinking healthy fluids, and avoiding, to the maximum degree possible, alcoholic beverages,” added Weis. “We need people to be successful during this, and allow the disease, the coronavirus germ, to really die out through the sustained shelter-in-place program.”