During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Whitley County Health Department’s Facebook page, where it has been publishing much of its information for the public about the virus, has gotten a lot more popular to the tune of over 3,000 followers.
“That may be double a year ago,” Public Health Director Marcy Rein told the Whitley County Board of Health during its quarterly meeting Monday evening.
“That is fantastic,” noted Dr. David Williams, who is the chairman of the board of health.
The board of health oversees the health department, and met via Zoom videoconferencing Monday.
Besides doing community education about COVID-19, one of the health department’s main priorities during the pandemic is to do case monitoring and contact tracing of people with the COVID-19 virus. As of Monday, there had been seven confirmed cases in Whitley County.
Rein has named a 10-person team of health department staff to do contact tracing if necessary, but so far, she has only had to use three people.
With discussions about re-opening the state increasing, one of the benchmarks is the ability to do contact tracing for those, who test positive for the virus.
“We anticipate we may increase that,” she added about contact tracing.
Another duty that has fallen to health departments during the pandemic is enforcing orders from the executive branch or governor, such as orders to close non-essential businesses and investigating various complaints.
During COVID-19, Rein receives briefings from the state at least three times per week, and she in turn is updating local elected officials, emergency managers and first responders daily.
Rein is also staying in close contact with Baptist Health Corbin regarding system capacity, and also the three nursing homes in the county.
The health department is also working to help distribute some personal protective equipment from the national stockpile that it receives from regional centers to local agencies, including recently distributing hand sanitizer and disinfectant to the hospital and the three local nursing homes.
On March 20, the health department closed to the public, and closed most of its clinical services.
The health department is still providing emergency contraception, but not pregnancy testing.
It is still doing STD treatment and testing, in addition to emergency immunizations, such as tetanus shots.
Based upon guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), starting Tuesday all health department employees and any of the few visitors it receives are required to wear masks at all times.
Number of needle exchange participants up
The harm reduction clinic, which is also known as the needle exchange program, had been averaging about 42 participants per week between December 2019 through early March 2020.
Because of COVID-19, the clinic is now being done as a drive-thru clinic, which has actually resulted in a significant increase in participants.
Rein said that one recent Friday there were 67 participants.
“We are going to explore eventually a little bit about why that might be because that seemed like a pretty significant change to us,” Rein said.
Rein added that there was a significant jump in overdoses in January, and the health department worked with EMS to resupply Naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of many drug overdoses.
She said it is unclear what caused the spike in overdoses.
Other discussion items
Rein noted that the influenza season was closing itself out, and that as of this past Friday, influenza cases had moved to the sporadic category.
There have been 146 cases of influenza in Whitley County this flu season, and there were no reported deaths.
During the meeting the board re-elected Williams as chairman of the board, and Don Creech as vice-chairman.
The board of health’s next meeting will take place on June 15 at 7 p.m., but the location of the meeting and whether it will be held in person or by video again is uncertain, but Rein said she anticipates that it will still need to be done by video.