Are conflicting messages contributing to a lackadaisical attitude toward social-distancing?

OKEECHOBEE — Very few people in Okeechobee seem to be taking the COVID-19 virus or the recommendations about social-distancing seriously. Could this be due to what they might be perceiving as mixed messages? Every day, they are told there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Okeechobee County, yet they are urged to stay out of public places and cautioned to avoid groups of 10 or more. To most people, this makes no sense. “The virus is not in Okeechobee,” is the sentence posted or spoken regularly around town. “We do not have to worry here. The virus is not here yet.”

Recently, Council Woman Monica Clark made a statement that there is not going to be a confirmed case in Okeechobee if we do not test people, and she hit the nail on the head with her statement. Although she did not know it at the time, there had only been six people tested in Okeechobee, and Okeechobee was not the only county having that problem. At that time, there were so few tests in the United States that very few people were being tested anywhere in the country. Since then, more tests have been developed and distributed, but they are still very limited, and it can take a week or more to get a result for a test.

In some ways, it may have been a mistake to publish the statistics, because they don’t mean much, say those who work in the medical field. Kara Findlay, who is a registered nurse in a busy emergency room near Atlanta said, “We really have no idea the impact of this virus yet due to lack of testing resources.” She went on to explain it is absolutely possible for many who have the virus to have been going about their daily life for weeks without realizing that is what they had. They might have thought they had a weird cold of some sort. Maybe they didn’t have the usual runny nose, but not all colds are alike. Right? “Unfortunately, the symptoms of COVID are so vague,” she said, “and testing is so limited due to the turnaround time (five to seven days) and the lack of availability.”

At a recent meeting of the Okeechobee County Commissioners, Tiffany Collins, the Okeechobee Department of Health administrator was asked if there was a way to tell if a person had already had the virus and already recovered, and she replied there was not.

Ms. Findlay said, “People do not have to display symptoms to spread COVID-19.” There are several memes going around illustrating how one person who has no idea he is sick can go out and, day after day, infect multiple people, until finally, he is no longer contagious and stops infecting people. One example is Joe. Joe has no idea he is sick He was infected yesterday but won’t know until 14 days later, and even then, he may not realize his illness is COVID-19, because he may have a very mild case. Joe thinks he is healthy and infects ten people per day. These ten people think they are fine, go out to eat, go to church, go to the grocery store and infect 100 more people. These 100 people think they are OK and carry on with their normal lives infecting 1,000 more people. No one knows who is infected and who is not. Even if or when these people show symptoms, they most likely will not be tested, because most of them will have mild cases, won’t see a doctor, and they still will not know if the illness they experienced was COVID-19 or something else entirely.

Many people walk around town coughing and then say things like, “I’ve had this cough for weeks. It can’t be the virus.” According to Ms. Findlay, it could be the virus. Like all the other nurses in the United States, Ms. Findlay is going to work every day, caring for COVID positive patients. She goes from work to home and back again, because she said she refuses to be part of the problem. “We need to think about the vulnerable population,” she said. “Think about yourself. You are not above this virus. And if none of that matters to you, think about your healthcare workers. Hospitals are having to build tents to care for infected patients. Here in the ER, we’re basically rationing resources because we weren’t ready for this. A friend told me at her hospital, they are having to re-wear gowns because they don’t have enough. Your healthcare working friends and family are about to get slaughtered by this virus. Please do your part people. Help us help you. Be smart America. For the love of God.”

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