By Marion Filler
When she ran for office, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) pledged to face her constituents with periodic town hall meetings.
The rookie Congresswoman had to break her promise Monday night, through no fault of her own.
Social distancing rules required Sherrill to phone in her town hall session…which was devoted to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Not only is this the most serious health crisis that I’ve ever seen, it’s the most serious economic crisis,” said Sherrill, who was joined on the hour-long call by Dr. Jason Kessler, chief of infectious diseases at Morristown Medical Center, where he is leading the response to the outbreak.
Also participating: Dr. Kenny Esser, senior vice president and chief of staff at Hackensack Meridian Health, and Al Titone, director of the Small Business Administration of New Jersey. He is responsible for coordinating assistance to approximately 800,000 small business owners in all 21 counties.
Acknowledging a “remarkable outpouring” of community support — “it engages and energizes us” — Kessler described how the hospital is scaling up access to treatment and testing.
“We are learning what does and does not work,” he said, while revamping the infrastructure to combat an expected surge of COVID-19 patients.
Kessler reminded listeners that testing is not indicated unless there is fever, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Too many tests delay reporting time, so only people with severe symptoms should get tested, he said.
“In a perfect world, we could test everyone multiple times,” said Esser.
Primary care doctors and/or urgent care physicians should be the front line of defense, he said. If you suspect you have the virus, make them aware and let them guide you.
The panelists fielded about a dozen questions from callers. With the exception of one who claimed “the liberal agenda is holding up the assistance bill,” the discussion was not politicized. President Trump never was mentioned, nor was the shortage of test kits, masks, and gowns. People simply wanted to know how to navigate the extraordinary situation we now face.
Among the topics:
What is the cost of testing for the uninsured?
Sherrill said legislation has been passed to waive all fees and copays for everyone.
What’s being done to help small businesses?
The recent level of activity has overwhelmed the system, Titone said. He suggested that applications be made through the S.B. A. by calling (973) 645-2434, or on its website.
“All of New Jersey is approved for the application,” he said. Both Sherrill and Titone are pushing legislation for loans to be treated as grants.
What can you do to help?
“Take care of your neighbors and yourself,” Sherrill said.
A telephone call, running errands for the elderly, or dropping off a treat for dinner can be very comforting. If isolation and depression become a problem for you or someone you know, reach out to the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris for help.
Should we wash our clothing every day to keep the virus away?
According to Kessler, we still are learning about how the virus is transmitted, its life span, the kinds of surfaces on which it lingers, and how long it can survive in a variety of conditions.
“It makes good sense to wash you clothes in general,” he said, adding, “If you come into contact with someone who appears ill or you think is ill, it’s a good idea to wash your clothes in hot water.”
Still, “social distancing measures are the most effective part the mitigation strategy as it currently exists,” Kessler emphasized.
Is restaurant food safe?
What if you cannot get food delivered from your supermarket in a prompt manner? Kessler felt that most restaurant food generally is safe if owners are emphasizing personal hygiene.
“If you can’t get delivery, contact your local church or synagogue. There are people who will shop for you,” said Sherrill. She also noted special shopping hours reserved for senior citizens at local supermarkets.
What about people with auto immune disease, at what point should they become concerned and get tested?
While diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer need special attention, there is no “one-size” answer, said Kessler. “The decision has to be made by the doctor who is supervising the condition. It should be done on a case by case basis.”
Do vitamins and natural medicines help?
Despite all the anecdotal information and comments on the internet, “nothing is proven,” said Kessler. Extra vitamin C or zinc may or may not help. Tylenol is good for mild discomfort, but we will learn more in time. For now, maintain a well balanced diet, exercise, and rest.
If you are on prescription drugs, continue taking them. One exception could be the interaction between ACE inhibitors and beta blockers that treat hypertension and heart failure for patients who have tested positive. Again, Kessler advises speaking with the physician overseeing the case.
By now, most people know the basic guidelines by heart: Check your temperature; wash your hands; cover your mouth when coughing; isolate yourself if you’ve had questionable contact with someone, or you exhibit mild symptoms.
The best advice, coming from every direction, is to limit potential exposure as much as possible.
This story has been updated to include a question about vitamins and natural remedies.