Social distancing is key

Hospital CEO, doctor field questions during virtual town hall.

Hospital CEO Denise Schepici during a virtual town hall. The town hall was aired live on MVTV. — Katrina Delgadillo

In a wide-reaching question-and-answer session aired live on MVTV, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici and Dr. Aletheia Donahue, a primary care physician at the hospital, fielded a wide range of questions about COVID-19 that were submitted by the public via an online portal.

Questions focused on what people should do if they feel sick, how long the virus can last on different surfaces, and testing.

“Today what we’re looking at is focusing testing on people that have either the most illness at this time, so are sick now with specific symptoms, or people who are at high risk of becoming sick,” Donahue said, adding that high-risk people are over the age of 70, have heart and lung conditions, or are people with impaired immune systems.

The hospital looks for flulike symptoms like sore throat, fever over 100.4°, and body aches.

The hospital will also test people who have had known exposure to a COVID-19-positive patient. People who have medical concerns that are not COVID-19-related should still contact their primary care doctor.

“This is a virus that spreads, in most cases, through droplet transmission. Those droplets are in the air, which is when someone speaks or coughs,” Donahue said.

But not all people will get a fever if they are infected with COVID-19.

“We know that there is some asymptomatic transmission of this disease, which is why this is such a problem,” Donahue said. “That is part of the great importance of social distancing … because we have people that are asymptomatic, it’s really important for people who are low-risk or feel OK to be social distancing.”

While there is no perfect answer yet for how long the virus lives outside a person’s body, Donahue did say it can live for a few hours on surfaces. She recommends people use their own judgment, especially those who are high-risk, when washing produce or cleaning off boxes.

“We need to be vigilant, but also practical,” Schepici added.

Part of that vigilance is taking care of yourself. Donahue said there had been “flimsy evidence” of zinc and vitamin C preventing COVID-19, but added that it certainly can’t hurt, and is perfectly fine to take.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding COVID-19 is the proper use of masks. Donahue and Schepici said masks should be reserved for medical professionals. Donahue said she would not trust a cloth mask or a scarf to prevent someone from contracting the virus.

“This virus is transmitted by droplets, so you need to be within six feet, probably, to get this,” Donahue said. “I get concerned about people who are using masks, especially in a clinical situation, that we know don’t work to keep droplet transmission from happening, because you might have the false sense of security that you are protected, and that mask doesn’t work.”

She added that N95 masks should be reserved for clinicians, and not used while going to the grocery store.

Schepici and Donahue’s main message was for people to continue to practice social distancing.

“Everybody’s sort of best bet here is if we can really take responsibility for social distancing, because that really will be a game-changer,” Donahue said.

Schepici also thanked employees at the hospital.

“Our teams are working 24/7,” Schepici said. “We are so blessed to have so many men and women serving our community.”