[Editor’s note: Radio Free Palmer COO Mike Chmielewski originally aired his interview with Dr. Tom Quimby on the Friday, March 13 edition of Valley Edition]
WASILLA — Mat-Su Regional Medical Center has set up a COVID-19 taskforce that is chaired by Dr. Tom Quimby.
Quimby works in the emergency department at MSRMC and serves as the director for the emergency department. Quimby said that MSRMC has been taking preparations to combat COVID-19 for months, and that MSRMC is well prepared to handle a curve that may not be flattened. As of March 13 when Radio Free Palmer COO Mike Chmielewski’s interview with Dr. Quimby aired, one person had tested positive for COVID-19 in Alaska. As of Wednesday night, nine total cases had been reported, with three each over the last two days.
“This is unique and it is a fine balance between being over active and kind of panicking and then also waiting too late to act,” said Quimby. “The hospital early on recognized that this was happening and we’ve taken a lot of measures to be prepared.”
Quimby said in what was his first radio interview ever that the goal statewide was to slow down the spread of COVID-19, especially to senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions. Quimby noted that countries that have successfully flattened the curve have been able to cope with the situation better than parts of the world that were not as prompt in their preparations.
“One of the problems that’s been widely publicized and that we’re still running into a little bit is we don’t have the ability to test as much as we would like,” said Quimby. “We’re ready to take care of those people who need to be hospitalized and we anticipate there will be a lot of them but the message for the vast majority of people is if you get symptoms, call the state 211 number, get guidance form them, but really probably stay home.”
Quimby said that testing has been tough to track, and with the expected arrival of COVID 19 in Alaska without adequate testing, there could be more cases that continue to be undiagnosed. Currently, none positive results have come back for 400 Alaska residents who have been tested for COVID 19.
“We are prepared to accept a large influx of people who need to be in the hospital and we have already taken concrete steps to convert our ambulance bay actually into a large negative pressure area where we could care for a number of patients, and then we’re prepared to take a whole wing or two of the hospital and then convert it to a ward that could accommodate at this point over 50 patients. So we’re ready for that,” said Quimby.
Quimby urged that residents experiencing symptoms that are not life threatening remain calm and communicate with health care professionals via the 211 line.
“From what we understand, two to five days into the course of their illness, then they will start experiencing these more severe symptoms which for the most part will be difficulty breathing,” said Quimby. “Really it’s up to us as individuals to do what we can to slow this down and we definitely can make a difference and we can save lives in the process.”
As tests have been reserved for those who are experiencing symptoms and may put at risk populations in danger, and Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said Tuesday that the state has 1,650 test kits, but that the answer to how many tests exist is not that simple.
“We’re also in communication with the Borough,” said Quimby. “If testing becomes available that we anticipate we may be able to work with them to set up a drive through testing area so please stay tuned. We are working closely with the state federal government to figure out as soon as possible when we can start doing more testing.”