Mildly ill? Isolate. Fever, short of breath? Head to ER

By Updated: March 17, 2020 6:40 PM CT | Published: March 16, 2020 2:13 PM CT
<strong>A mobile mammogram bus that has been retrofitted to test patients for COVID-19 sits outside Baptist Memorial Hospital on Friday, March, 13.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

A mobile mammogram bus that has been retrofitted to test patients for COVID-19 sits outside Baptist Memorial Hospital on Friday, March, 13. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Local health care professionals have these recommendations for what to do if you’re home feeling sick and getting worried.

If it’s flu-like symptoms, call your doctor for a prescription of Tamiflu, says primary care physician Dr. Jeff Warren.

“If you get shortness of breath, that’s when you need to get to the ER,” he said. “We’re still seeing Influenza A; it’s still out there. If you think you have flu now, it’s probably best to have your doctor call medicine into your pharmacy for you.”

Coronavirus daily blog, March 17: Strickland declares state of emergency; third local case confirmed

If it’s a cold, remember colds often include a little fever, he said.

“Stay home for a couple of weeks. For the time being, err on the side of caution, and don’t spread it,” Warren said.

“The thing you need to be worried about is high fever, cough and shortness of breath.”

Clinics and emergency rooms still want you to call ahead if you have these symptoms. You will be isolated once you arrive.

“Every doctor’s office and ER has a protocol for what to do today with people with flu-like symptoms,” Warren said.

At Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, physicians are working to defer certain patients from clinic visits – “both at the high-risk end of the spectrum where we might put immuno-compromised kids at risk by having them go outside and at the benign end, where the visit may be unnecessary and can be pushed back,” said Dr. Jon McCullers, pediatrician-in-chief.

He says the same practices are happening in hospitals across the city.

Two corrections center inmates tested for COVID-19

Le Bonheur is also working on telemedicine opportunities that McCullers says will like roll out early this week.

The hospital has employees who were exposed to the case of COVID-19 that was confirmed last week in Shelby County. Those health care workers and staff who are at high-risk themselves will use devices to see patients while they are isolated from work.

The good thing about the technology is it will also reduce crowding and potential exposure in the clinics, McCullers said.

When schools are closed, parents and sometimes even employees want to bring children to the hospital, which is not an option now, he said.

And while churches and other groups have stepped in to provide emergency child care, he has some concern about what may be happening.

 “If kids are congregating there or in their neighborhoods to play basketball or whatever, what is the purpose of closing the schools? It is very stressful for a lot of parents,” he said.

Your noon national novel coronavirus update

Dr. Steve Sittnick, with UT Family Medicine on Primacy Parkway, is seeing his share of upper respiratory issues but also the usual run of abdominal pain and people in for routine care.

 “This is Memphis, and it’s been unusually moist lately,” he said, laughing.

He has noticed a few patients, in the habit of letting their preventative care slide, are coming in now, wanting to take better care of themselves, which he credits to the virus.

The morning huddle now includes a few minutes to update the staff the latest findings, a “what-to-do-when-you-see-this,” Sittnick said.

“We rehearse it as a way to bring home that we are professionals, working together,” he said. 

Church Health Center Monday was asking Memphians to immediately contact U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn to make sure the coronavirus aide package before the Senate includes funding for clinics that do not receive federal funding, like Church Health. 

“We are a charitably funded clinic. We do not receive government funding to run our clinics but instead depend on volunteers, donors and many partners to provide exceptionally high quality, comprehensive health care,” said spokeswoman Jenny Koltnow. 

The Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, she said, needs to include provisions that make the uninsured eligible for coronavirus testing and include charitable clinics and pharmacies in the act.

Warren is seeing very little anxiety in his practice on Walnut Grove Road.

“People are doing a good job of social distancing. We’ve gotten really good information from the CDC on limiting group sizes to 50 or less. The primary thing now is not to spread the virus.

“I think we got ahead of the curve in Memphis,” Warren said. “But we still don’t know for sure.”

There are only two confirmed cases in Shelby County. Those cases are related, which means that other sources of transmission so far are not happening.

As of Sunday, 31 people had been tested in Shelby County. Eleven have cleared; two were confirmed and 18 tests are pending, according to Mayor Jim Strickland’s update Monday afternoon.

Still, the issue for physicians is having enough tests. 

“There aren’t enough kits now,” Warren said, but noted that a rapid-read test from Roche Life Science, which would allow for a 1,000 tests a day here is expected to be available soon.

“When it is here, we will be able to analyze the results in Memphis,” he said.

In data from the 1918 influenza outbreak, social distancing and closures in Philadelphia did not start until after the virus had spread, Warren said. At the height of the epidemic, the city experienced 250 deaths per 100,000 people in a matter of weeks. In St. Louis, where closures and distancing happened two days after the first case was reported, deaths spiked three months later at 50 per 100,000 people.

“We want to be like St. Louis, not Philadelphia,” Warren said. “We want to look like South Korea, not Italy.”

Sittnick, who works in in a clinic where third- and fourth-year medical students from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center are doing rotations, is inspired by their dedication.

“Every single day, they come back.”

In his list of epidemic-savvy behavior, Warren firmly reminds his patients not to hoard supplies.

“Don’t buy six months’ worth of toilet paper. All that is going to do is panic your neighbors. If you just keep going to the store and buying normal amounts of stuff, there will be more than enough.”

If you are among the 5% that overbought, Warren advises you call your neighbors and “spread out the hand sanitizer, toilet tissue and cleaning solutions.

“Calm down; figure out where you can share your stuff and what you paid for and give it out at a fair price.”

Instead of indulging in conspiracy theories or doomsday thinking, Sittnick says society needs to be prepared.

“We cannot be shocked. Epidemics happen. This is not the first. We’ve learned a lot from past pandemics. If you’re healthy and the sun is out, get outside. Stay three feet from your neighbor, but still say hi,” he says.

“This is our time. We have to man the wall. We just have to. Stand in the gap, each of us, whether you’re in the medical profession, a priest, principal or teacher.

“It’s not the end of humanity. It’s a chance for humanity to shine.”



COVID-19 Dr. Jeff Warren Dr. Jon McCullers LeBonheur Children's Hospital

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.

Comment On This Story

Section Emails

Sign up to get the latest articles from the Business section.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions