What does "normal" really mean?
As states begin to re-open and life begins to shift toward a new normal, what does “normal” really mean? Are we in the clear? Dr. Christopher Brychel, infectious diseases physician at LMH Health, said that going back to normal can't happen just yet, but that there are some important aspects to note as we begin to re-open statewide.
One of the first things Dr. Brychel mentioned was the importance of personal responsibility to not only protect yourself and your family, but to protect other community members around you. The harrowing truth is that it only takes one person for a disease to spiral out of control.
"We are all working to find our new equilibrium," he said. "Moving forward, we have to find a way to keep society in motion while keeping safety first for each individual. As we re-open, it is immensely important that we maintain vigilance about hand hygiene, mask-wearing, social distancing and other necessary safety measures to make certain we can move forward in a positive fashion."
Dr. Brychel said that we must continue to practice all safeguards recommended by the CDC, KDHE and LDCH through each phase of re-opening. When it comes to social distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and masks, Brychel said there is no exception for anything less than a full effort.
"With personal accountability comes the acceptance that we may need to put the brakes on," Dr. Brychel said. "The phases recommended by federal, state and local governments and down to individual institutions, could change if we do not see the numbers we would like. Though plans are in place now, they could also change if the community does not band together to continue suppressing this virus."
Dr. Brychel said until a vaccine is produced, the virus will remain in the community and it is the responsibility of every community member to keep the city safe.
LMH Health is re-opening in phases as well, with patient and employee safety at the heart of each phase. He reminds patients that non-emergent healthcare options are open and safe but also expressed the ease and availability of using a telehealth visit, when appropriate.
"As we work to find a new equilibrium at the hospital, we continue to offer telemedicine appointments for those who can be seen virtually," Dr. Brychel said. "As we move forward, telemedicine will continue to exist in a meaningful capacity, but it is important to note that not every aspect of care is appropriate for telemedicine. For those issues that require in-person evaluation, you can rest assured that your safety and care is our central concern."
Dr. Christopher Brychel
For nearly 100 years, our community has relied on LMH Health to provide exceptional, safe care. This has always been our top priority, and it remains true – now more than ever. Our purpose is to be “A Partner for Lifelong Health,” in all times, but especially in these challenging ones.
With excellent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kansas Department of Health & Environment, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and our own team of Infectious Diseases physicians, we have re-opened our clinics and departments of the hospitals by implementing the most up-to-date COVID-19 precautions to safeguards and protect you, our staff and ultimately the community.
Brychel encourages everyone that if they experience a life-threatening, emergency situation, to come to the emergency room for care.
"Staying home when you are sick does not mean you should stay home and not seek care," Dr. Brychel said. "There are many medical needs that warrant immediate care. If you believe that you require urgent medical attention, do not hesitate to come to our ER. We have prepared for you to be treated and cared for safely."
What about antibody testing?
While LMH Health has received many inquiries about antibody testing, we are not currently performing antibody tests. Dr. Brychel said that so far, antibody tests are very problematic.
"In their current forms, antibody tests are filled with validity concerns, making interpretation of their results nearly impossible," Dr. Brychel said. "These tests have not been subject to traditional FDA validations. Essentially, it is unclear if a negative result truly represents the absence of disease. The degree of uncertainty surrounding a negative result is hindered by the uncertainties of the meaning of a positive test result. Lastly, these tests do not predict immunity and may lead to a false sense of security that could ultimately prove to be detrimental to an individual and his or her community."
Dr. Brychel clarified that while the test will not physically harm you, they have not been validated by the FDA. The current assays received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA but that does not mean that they have been approved or recommended by the FDA. A test is only good if it is accurate and provides meaningful intervention.
"I understand that patients who have had a respiratory disease recently or over the winter want to know if they've already weathered COVID-19 without even knowing it,” Dr. Brychel said. “Unfortunately, there just is no certainty at this time. Because of this uncertainty, I advise my patients not to spend money on these tests just yet because the tests available provide no clear answers or actionable results."
Dr. Brychel also cautioned against patients participating in direct to consumer antibody testing. These tests can be completed without a doctor's order and may leave consumers responsible for an additional fee to get counseling on the test results.
"Information changes very quickly regarding tests and other facts about COVID-19," he said. "I recommend checking the CDC, KDHE and LDCH’s websites regularly for any changes."
Despite the uncertainty, Dr. Brychel wants to offer encouragement that eventually, things will slow down.
"We will get through this," he said. "We don't know how long this will be, as only the virus can determine the timeframe. We will make it through and it continues to be important for each individual to do their part. It is easy to get lost and feel like this will never end, we all understand and experience those feelings. With risk reduction and an abundance of caution, we can and will make it to the other side."
During the COVID-19 crisis, the community has provided support for LMH Health staff and providers in many ways - not only by providing personal protective equipment, but by staying safe during this time. Dr. Brychel said he is very grateful for the vigilant efforts made by the community so far.
"We underwent extreme, but necessary, measures to flatten the curve," he said. "And really, the community crushed the curve. We are in awe at the efforts the community has made to remain safe and at the kind gestures given daily. While each of us weathers this storm, it is important not to forget your humanity. Offer kindness and step up when your neighbors are in need. We can and we will do this."
Visit www.lmh.org/coronavirus to keep up with our latest news and updates, including information about telehealth visits, changes and restrictions LMH Health is implementing due to COVID-19.