#childsafety | Hablitzel discusses COVID-19, importance of continued precautions

By Ashley McCarty-

As of Sept. 2, there were 11 active COVID-19 cases in Adams County, according to the Adams County Health Department.
According to the statistics, there is one probable case, four deaths and 80 recoveries. From the onset of the coronavirus in the county, there have been a total of 95 cases.
The Adams County Health Department is currently monitoring 46 individuals.
“There’s a couple levels of monitoring. Certainly someone that has been tested positive, that’s sick, or that may not have a lot of symptoms. We touch base with them, ask them how they’re feeling. Again, many people may have mild symptoms, if any symptoms if they test positive, so we stay in regular contact with people to see how they’re doing, and remind them when they really should go see their doctor or go to the hospital,” said Adams County Health Commissioner Dr. William Hablitzel.
A large part of the monitoring the Health Department does is involved with contact tracing.
“If someone becomes ill, we identify who they have been in close contact with prior to developing the symptoms. Those contacts, then, we follow on a regular basis, daily. To see how they’re doing, to see if they have developed any symptoms, and if they would, we would then recommend those people to see their doctor and get tested. So, that way, we try to limit the spread of this throughout the community,” said Hablitzel.
With all of the controversy regarding the opening of schools, Hablitzel affirmed that the districts were doing an excellent job.
“They’ve put a lot of thought into what they’re doing, and planning, and trying to accommodate what’s needed in their districts, which are different. Different needs, so they’re taking different approaches, and thinking things out. We’ve been working closely with them, and I think it’s been going well.”
Even more controversial were the athletics this year, as some schools opted to continue with them.
“Sports are part of school, and many would have us believe it’s the most important part of school. I’m sure there’s many that think band is the most important part of school. So, it comes as a package. I understand the benefits of athletics, from learning to function as a team, the physical activity is healthy, but it creates another challenge. Everything you do in the school, there are challenges, and you figure out when you identify what’s important. What activities are important for the children in your district, then you figure out how we go about meeting those needs as safely as we possibly can,” said Hablitzel.
There are clearly challenges with athletics, he said.
“Some schools have decided not to do it right now, [they’re] going to wait for awhile, other schools just do some. Whatever fits that local district, we make it as safe as we possibly can. Nothing is going to be 100 percent safe, there’s risks, and you balance those risks with the benefits. Going to school, the safest would be to have all the kids do remote learning at home,” said Hablitzel.
Particularly in Adams County, though, children benefit from going to school.
“A high percentage of our children get meals at school, their nutrition at school, the ability to have professional eyes looking at children and noticing mental health needs. You’ve seen this year the stress throughout society during this pandemic, and I think part of what we’re seeing with all of the protests, the strife, and even just the anger and the frustration, that has an affect on people. That could very easily affect children. We don’t know what goes through a child’s mind when they see television, and when they don’t understand why they can’t do the things that they were doing, and even fear, many people are very afraid of becoming sick. Children sense that,” said Hablitzel.
Getting the children back to school and in a normal routine, and education, is important, he said.
“The interaction, having people be another set of eyes that can help protect. Sometimes signs can be missed by parents because they can be so subtle. We get used to maybe things changing so little, day by day, it’s not until a teacher says boy, this isn’t the Tommy I knew, is everything okay? So, that’s the benefit of school. If you’re balancing the risks, and the benefits with the risks are, you know, we have a viral illness going through the community. It is in the community, and the schools will be a portion of that,” said Hablitzel.
What is going through the community is going through the schools, said Hablitzel.
“All of the students are a representation of the community. So, if there’s families out there that have been exposed to the virus, there will be children that will take that virus into the schools. So, we have to plan for that. How will we do things to keep everyone as safe as possible when we have children that have the COVID-19 infection. I say when, not if, because it most certainly will happen,” said Hablitzel. Though it hasn’t happened — yet.
The fourth death recently recorded in the county was a male between the age of 30 and 39. Up until now, the deaths have been mixed gender of 70 plus.
“The advice I would give young people is the same advice I give to older people. This is real, it’s happening. Some of the most powerful words in science, in medicine, is we don’t know, and there’s a lot of that with COVID-19. We don’t know what the effects are, and many sort of question whether or not this illness is serious enough to do everything that we’re doing, disrupting life, because they’re not seeing large death numbers, and then when you turn on the television to the 24-hour news cycle, where they have to keep filling air time, they have more and more stories of how this isn’t a problem. It sort of feeds the suspicion, and there’s some that have conspiracy theories that we’re being manipulated as a society,” said Hablitzel.
All of that is going to happen when you don’t have facts, he said.
“If you don’t have complete knowledge of something, you fill in the blanks with whatever is out there, and unfortunately, some of what’s out there is not helpful and very wrong. As we get further into this pandemic, there’s been more and more time that studies can be done to determine the effects of this virus. How do we best control it, and what the future may have in store. Most people [with infections] have mild, to moderate, to no symptoms at all, and get better. So, that makes us drop our guard a little bit, but the truth is we really don’t know what is in store for the future for those individuals,” said Hablitzel.
A prospective study that came from Germany, posted in The Journal of American Medical Association looked at 100 people that were diagnosed at a testing center with COVID-19. The infected individuals were tracked along with 100 people not diagnosed with COVID-19. Three months after positive diagnosis, MRI imaging was taken of the heart; 78 of the 100 individuals had evidence of structural damage, 60 had evidence of inflammation, which, when severe, can lead to cardiomyopathy.
That’s myocarditis, and viral illnesses can cause myocarditis, and it can be a devastating illness. When it’s very severe, heart failure and heart transplants — it’s rare, but even run of the mill viruses can do that, but when you look at those kinds of numbers where 60 percent have had evidence of heart inflammation, what impact will that have in the future? What’s going to happen in six months to a year? Will these individuals have other health risks that we can’t identify now? The answer is we don’t know,” said Hablitzel.
While that shouldn’t alarm us, it should give us some respect of the illness.
“That we really don’t know the effects, so let’s do everything we can to limit infection, limit the spread, because we don’t know what the future has in store. There are studies that have shown lung damage, kidney damage from this infection — again, what impact will that have on health in the future? We have reports of young, healthy people that have gone through this infection, haven’t had really bad symptoms, but comment even three or four weeks after they have their infection that they’re still really tired. Well, that’s one of the symptoms that you see like with heart inflammation. It takes a while for people to heal,” said Hablitzel.
The bottom line is, there is not enough information or knowledge about COVID-19 to assure people that it isn’t a big deal.
“So, that’s why the precautions with all the recommendations just of daily life as far as going to the supermarket, and all the precautions that we’re taking with the kids. Kids do not, it appears, have as severe illness as adults, but there is now an abundance of evidence — not many weeks ago, we were hearing that we don’t need to worry about children, because children can’t spread the infection among themselves — well, you look at all the stories about the college campuses, and the high schools, and the overnight camps, and clearly kids can transmit this infection among themselves,” said Hablitzel.
Probably an even greater concern, is that when children infect each other, they then go home and potentially spread it to a grandparent that is taking care of them, or they’re in contact with regularly.
“They may have health problems who tend to get more seriously ill if they get infected, we place them at risk. So, the schools are sort of a big mixing bowl. We’ll take a child or a representative from each family in the district, put them in a bowl and mix them together, and then we send other children to other families, and potentially spread the virus and share the virus with others in the community. So, that’s the concern, and so that’s what informs every step the schools are taking to try and keep people safe,” said Hablitzel.
Hablitzel said he doesn’t understand why some establishments don’t enforce wearing masks.
“I understand on an intellectual level. The human nature, we want independence, we like our liberties, we like to make our own decisions, we don’t like being told what to do. For many, when a government or some leadership tells them they have to do this, for many, it’s human nature to rebel. Maybe rural areas are even more inclined to push back, because we have a long history of strong families, being hard-working, we’ve taken care of ourselves. We can take care of problems ourselves, we don’t need outsiders to tell us what to do,” said Hablitzel. So, Hablitzel understands where the pushback comes from, understanding why.
“But, on a level where we’re a member of a community, the easiest word to say is no. I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that, I have rights, no, I won’t do that. A much harder word, but also a much more powerful word, is yes. I don’t understand all that’s going on. I’m not certain that this is a big deal, but it might be, and if I’m wrong, I could harm people. I could harm people in my community. So, if there’s that possibility, I’m going to do what’s right for the community,” said Hablitzel.
The members of the community that resent or are pushing back, particularly some leaders that may operate a business that don’t feel mask orders should be enforced — Hablitzel wonders how much that they really respect their community.
“We’re wearing masks to reduce the risks of others, the people we don’t see, and when get the schools back together and that teacher looks out across that classroom of kids — which one of those kids could have the virus? We don’t know. How many people in line at Walmart may have the virus, and feel fine, or just haven’t developed symptoms yet? We don’t know. How many kids in that classroom have someone to go home to that may have health problems? That may be old, or may be at risk,” said Hablitzel.
Those are all good reasons why the community should take the precautions.
“Those that are dead set that this is not a serious problem, I would say to them — what if you’re wrong? So, we do it because we respect our community, we respect the lady next door that may have health problems, we respect our friends who may have children, we do it because we might be wrong,” said Hablitzel.
Whether or not we really embrace or are very concerned about this illness, it’s touched everyone, he said.
“There are individuals who are very concerned about their safety, and about the safety of their families; others, they really don’t believe it’s that big of a health risk, and everyone in-between. Everyone has been touched in some way with this, whether it’s just the concern you feel personally, or what we hear on television, the radio, the effects of the hassles we have to go through when we go to the store. Life is different, schools are different. There’s not one area of society that hasn’t been touched by this, and some of that effect hasn’t been good. It’s been stressful,” said Hablitzel.
It’s going to take the whole community to come together, heal, and get over this, he said.
“I think it’s going to be the strength of the community, that, in Adams County, is one of our greatest strengths. It’s a very strong community. We don’t know what the future has in store, uncertainty is always frightening, and that’s what all of these precautions, the masks, the social distancing, the hygiene, and not knowing what to do with your hands — which none of us is ever going to learn — if this lasts another two years, we’re probably still not going to learn, but we will find a way to come together, and I think we need to utilize the strength of this community to help us get past this,” said Hablitzel.


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