US public health director urges people to seek out doctors, not Internet, for medical advice

Webber said some people don't want to answer calls from public health anymore. — dpa

At a time when cases of Covid-19 are on the rise in the Bitterroot Valley, Ravalli County Public Health director Tiffany Webber wishes people would turn off the Internet and ask their doctor for medical advice.

"Ask someone you trust instead of someone you've never heard of before seeing their name on your computer," Webber said.

Ravalli County has gone from a handful of cases a few weeks ago to more than 30 a day over the three-day weekend — and those numbers didn't include what was counted from the state laboratory.

"We're trying to keep it all in perspective," Webber said. "For the last year and a half, we've been preaching how do we protect ourselves and our community. Right now, the majority of the cases we're seeing are people who are unvaccinated."

As of the end of August, about 53% of the population in Ravalli County had been vaccinated, with the highest percentages in the age group over 60. Less than 30% of people ages 12 to 29 have received the vaccination.

"We still have 47% of the population that isn't vaccinated," she said. "It would sure be helpful if people would get on board with getting the vaccine. We're suggesting people talk to their doctor about it if they aren't sure. That's someone they can trust and who doesn't have a bias."

There has been a recent uptick in the numbers of people getting vaccinated following the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the troublesome delta variant.

"There has been a larger interest from people wanting the vaccines," said Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management Eric Hoover. "I think we'll continue to have Pfizer available through providers in the county."

The availability of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson is more uncertain. Hoover said the county did have to discard a small amount of the J&J vaccine after it reached its expiration date.

"I know there are some providers who are trying to get some more in," he said.

With employee numbers down in the county's public health department, Hoover said the county will not have the capacity to provide the same services that it accomplished last year.

"We had a large contingent of nurses and contact tracers that we don't have right now," Hoover said. "We will try to accommodate those who want contact tracing, but people need to remember that we don't have the same resources that we had a year ago."

Webber said some people don't want to answer calls from public health anymore.

"We run into quite a few people who don't want to talk to us or return our call," she said. "All we can do is give them information and hope they take it."

"For the first year and a half, it felt like many residents wanted to do what they could to prevent the spread of Covid," Webber said. "We're just at this place now that we're going to have to wait and see what the rest will do. You can't make people do things... I suspect we're going to see lots of sick people and it's not just going to be Covid. There will probably be more cases of influenza and pertussis."

"The whole point of getting the vaccine is to take death off the table," she said. "No one knows how Covid is going to affect them. Not everyone is doing fine. Just because you don't know anyone personally who has had a bad case means that everything is okay."

Webber encourages anyone who has been exposed to a confirmed case of Covid to wear a mask when they are around people.

"They are not foolproof, but they do help," she said. "If you become symptomatic, don't go to work. Stay home for 10 days until your health improves. If you get into trouble and start experiencing breathing problems, go to the hospital... Don't go to Murdochs and get a medication designed for a 1,500-pound animal, not a 90-pound grandma."

"Don't take medical advice from someone you don't know," Webber said. "Don't take chances. Why would you do that? You can't hold a YouTube video accountable for your care."

Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital spokesperson Christina Voyles said that while the Hamilton hospital isn't seeing the extreme number of cases impacting hospitals in Missoula, the numbers of Covid cases are increasing.

"We are seeing more cases and most are people who are unvaccinated," Voyles said. "Anyone vaccinated is getting a very mild case by comparison and generally not needing to stay with us, but can monitor from home."

Voyles said the hospital is not at the point where it's cancelling surgeries, but that situation is being monitored daily.

"We're anticipating an increase in the next couple of weeks, but are hopeful the number of cases will go back down after that," she said. "Hopefully, we won't have to cancel any services for non-Covid patients."

"We're bracing ourselves — at least this time we know the drill, have more information about Covid, how to fight it, and will be better poised to respond to an uptick in cases than we were when this was new," Voyles said. – Ravalli Republic, Hamilton, Mont/Tribune News Service

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