COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Greene County. The Ohio Department of Health has been airing a new hyper-local advertisement that features a local doctor and is aimed at getting people to wear their masks. Dr. Kevin Sharrett is the Greene County Coroner and a physician with the Kettering Health Network — and he’s a local farmer, too. WYSO's Chris Welter talked with Dr. Sharrett over the phone about what he’s seeing in the Miami Valley:
Chris Welter: How can folks stay safe during the pandemic?
Dr. Kevin Sharrett: A long time ago, back when I was in my residency, two of my patients were world champion ballroom dancers. The gentleman could tell that I was really intrigued by the intricacy of their dance and he gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten: he said the most eloquent performances are made up of basic steps, performed well.
This COVID situation is kind of the same way. Handwashing and sanitation is paramount. Then, there’s social distancing. We know that this is an airborne virus and so it travels through the air. The longer distance it has to travel, the less virulent it is, the less contagious it is and then with that in mind, anything that impedes that airborne transmission is helpful. That’s where masks come in. So it comes down to the basic steps: handwashing, social distancing and barrier protection. The message hasn’t changed because the message is true and the message is that the simple steps are the best way to have a good performance.
Chris Welter: What are some other important things to remember during this pandemic?
Dr. Kevin Sharrett: I have patients ask me all the time: should they do this? Should they do that? Should I go to large gatherings? Should I participate in life on a daily basis? And the answer is: we have to live life. But my advice to patients is don’t take any chances you don’t have to take. If you don’t have to make a trip, don’t make it. Make those choices that limit your exposure.
It’s really important not to let your health lapse. If it’s time for a checkup, then get the checkup one way or the other. If it’s time to have your lab drawn, let’s get your labs drawn. If it’s time for a vaccine, it’s time for a vaccine. We need to maintain those things. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of your health.
Chris Welter: What will happen if people don’t take this pandemic seriously?
Dr. Kevin Sharrett: Right now, what we’re seeing is literally just the tip of the iceberg. This virus is contagious. We don’t have immunity to it. Even though we’re seeing very significant numbers across our nation, it’s just a drop in the bucket of what it could be if these precautions are not taken. If we don’t take this seriously, then we will see a number of individuals infected beyond our imagination and our ability to deal with it at that point would certainly be overwhelmed.
I looked at the numbers yesterday for Greene County and we had 20 new cases yesterday, which is a significant increase. it seemed like forever we hovered around that 50 mark in Greene County. And now we’re well up over 200, close to 300.
Chris Welter: When should people go and get tested?
Dr. Kevin Sharrett: testing for those individuals that have had a significant exposure is recommended. Secondly, if you have any symptoms that are unusual, abnormal, then you need to consider testing, because since individuals are asymptomatic, you could have been exposed and not really realized that. Now, if you have no known exposure and you have no symptoms, then certainly testing becomes more of a vague, ambiguous situation. I’m not really recommending at this point that they go in for testing simply because it would over overwhelm the testing sites.
Chris Welter: What have you seen from the people in the rural areas that you’re treating? Are they treating this pandemic differently than the people in the cities?
Dr. Kevin Sharrett: I do feel like the people in our community are taking this seriously and they are doing a good job following those basic steps. And the reason I’m saying that is that our numbers are low. If you look at our numbers compared to surrounding communities and communities of similar populations, our numbers are low. I’m not throwing stones at the surrounding communities because there’s variables involved that are out of people’s control. But I am very thankful and I feel that we’re very fortunate here in Greene County that our numbers are as low as they are. And I think that’s certainly in no small part due to the fact that people are taking it seriously and they are trying to do their part to prevent the spread.
Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.