Talking with Doctor, Airport Authority About Coronavirus Preparations in the Northland

DULUTH, Minn. — There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Duluth right now, but if one were to hit tomorrow, accurate test kits that detect the virus haven’t been distributed to most hospitals in the United States yet.

During a strong influenza season, it’s critical to have the kits to determine if a patient has coronavirus, or just the flu.

“It does seem to be more deadly than influenza,”┬áDr. Andrew Thompson, an infectious diseases physician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, said.

There are about a dozen labs the CDC has designated for potential coronavirus samples to be sent to.

“That is one of the more frustrating things right now, we always want the ability to test for something, and especially know that there are some kits out there but they’re in very limited supply is frustrating.”

One biotech company in Massachusetts has created a vaccine ready for human testing, but there’s no timeline as to when it could be approved.

Dr. Thompson said it’s too early to hinge hope on yet.

“A working vaccine could totally change the course of this outbreak, what I’m going to call a pandemic, because it’s starting to sound like that,” he said. “I wouldn’t keep my fingers crossed though because most vaccines take months to years to make it into the marketplace and make it available to many people.”

St. Luke’s Hospital is now creating plans to handle the potential COVID-19 patients in the future, and they’re not the only ones preparing.

The Duluth International Airport would follow its existing protocol for passengers who may turn into patients.

“If there happens to be an infectious disease that comes in on a commercial aircraft, that aircraft would be quarantined until the situation was under control,” Tom Warner, the executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, said.

The airport in Duluth connects to larger ones in cities like Minneapolis and Chicago.

Right now, it’s not tracking if passengers are coming in from countries with a higher rate of coronavirus infections like China, since there’s no federal mandate to do so.

“We’re not doing that at this case,” Werner said. “For us right now, until there’s a situation we need to deal with where we would deal with a specific instance, it’s business as usual.”

Back at the hospital, Dr. Thompson said face masks might not be worth the money, as contaminants can still creep through.

While you’ve probably heard this advice before, he emphasized that nothing beats washing your hands when it comes to preventing illness.

As airlines limit travel to certain countries, the stock market is taking hits, and certain products in China are stalling in factories, Dr. Thompson said the coronavirus might eventually end up taking the biggest toll on our healthcare system.

“My concern about coronavirus is that it’s really going to tax our healthcare system, and many other things in our society, so it really puts a stress on all the other things that we normally have to deal with also,” Dr. Thompson said.

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