Published on April 10, 2020

Obiefuna Okoye, MD, MPH – Infection Control Medical Director, Southeastern HealthOvercoming Crisis Together While Apart

Our region has watched as large parts of the country and North Carolina have been inundated by coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in recent weeks. As the virus began spreading throughout communities, it was inevitable that the greater Lumberton area and Robeson County would soon begin to feel the impact of the pandemic. The outcomes around the country are disturbing and what lies ahead for our community seems daunting. However, our local government and healthcare leaders, including experts at Southeastern Health, have proactively implemented a comprehensive preparedness and response plan.

Weeks prior to Robeson County’s first positive test for COVID-19, Southeastern Health leaders opened our incident command center and established a Surge Team in anticipation of a spike of people who contract the virus. Along with peer organizations and our government leaders, our team has been closely following projection estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In the next two to three weeks, we expect that COVID-19 cases in our community will steadily increase.

In recent weeks, we have implemented protocols at our healthcare facilities and residents of our community have taken steps to physically distance and socially distance themselves by staying home. At Southeastern Health, we have built up our capacity to asses and treat an increasing volume of COVID-19 patients, while maintaining a safe environment for our employees and community. Everyone who enters our facilities, including employees, are screened including a temperature reading.

Although we are confident in our capability to confront this health crisis as it impacts our community, it is extremely important that our friends and neighbors stay the course and adhere to the advice of public health experts when practicing social distancing and remain disciplined in our sanitation and protective measures.

We must remember to not become complacent and to continue these simple, yet potentially lifesaving, practices:

  • Stay at home, especially if you feel sick
  • Wash your hands frequently and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often
  • Do not touch your face without washing your hand immediately prior
  • Wear a mask or face cover in public places

If you begin to feel sick or are concerned you may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath), call your primary care provider for guidance before seeking care at a health care facility. If you do not have access to a primary care provider, call your local health department. Recognizing symptoms of COVID-19 is essential and a healthcare provider can help identify those before you leave your home, especially as we enter outdoor allergy season.

As we navigate this pandemic together, it is important we continue to be extremely cautious and stay physically apart. Success in this fight does not mean zero additional cases – we are past that point. Success will be a lower number of people who are sick due to our ability to stay home, follow health experts’ advice, and protect each other. We have proven to be a resilient community before, and, however long it takes, this pandemic will prove no different than past challenges we have overcome together.