The St. Louis community is fortunate to have physicians Dr. Sam Page and Dr. Emily Doucette in senior leadership positions in this time of crisis. Dr. Doucette, acting co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, took a few minutes from her long and intense days to update physicians in this Q&A with the Medical Society. Dr. Doucette has been a member of the SLMMS Council since 2019.
- What type of pandemic response plan did your department have in place prior to COVID-19? How well is this being executed? The Department of Public Health (DPH) maintains an influenza pandemic response plan which has been updated to be responsive to the latest guidelines from the CDC. It covers a variety of pandemic pathogens. We are providing the community with guidance that matches this plan.
- Are there community-wide pandemic response exercises? DPH regularly conducts St. Louis County-wide exercises. The last was this past fall, in which we held a regional Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise. We also provide training and consulting service for private businesses and other entities.
- Describe your epidemiology staff at St. Louis County DPH working on COVID-19. We are fortunate at St. Louis County to have a team of highly trained epidemiologists and nurses dedicated to communicable diseases. All have degrees including nursing, MPH and epidemiology. Their skill sets include strong quantitative skills, biosecurity and disaster preparedness.
- From your vantage point today, what may be the next steps in containment measures? DPH has implemented aggressive mitigation efforts mandating social distancing in a variety of ways. We will monitor community disease and determine if additional measures to tighten social isolation are necessary, and when they might be triggered. At the moment, it is important to practice social distancing in all situations possible and take care of each other physically and emotionally, even if it is remotely.
- Do you have any estimate as to how long we might be dealing with mass event closures and social distancing?We cannot predict the timeline at this point. Much will depend if there is any seasonal component of this disease; this is yet to be known.
- From a public health perspective, who is most at risk for COVID-19? The most vulnerable populations include the elderly, pregnant women, anyone with other significant health issues affecting the cardiopulmonary system, and anyone with a compromised immune system.
- How can physicians be of support to the DPH public health effort? Promote good respiratory and hand hygiene. Practice environmental cleaning. Maintain moderate social distancing within clinical settings as you can. Consider limiting elective medical care. Use evidence-based criteria to test patients. Provide support and accurate information to patients about the disease.
- Is there anything else you would like to add? It is important for physicians and health care facilities to recognize that emergency preparedness planning is necessary regularly so we are prepared when pandemics hit. While the work of developing plans for continuity of operations and community education may seem superfluous or onerous between pandemics, this work is necessary for all health care organizations.
For more information on St. Louis County COVID-19 response, visit www.stlcorona.com
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