Peninsula health director says COVID-19 likely to worsen before getting better; emphasizes social distancing to flatten the curve


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — One week ago, Doctor Steve Julian came out of retirement to lead the Peninsula Health District as acting director after previously running Sentara Obici in Suffolk.

It has not been an easy week, but Julian praises the COVID-19 screenings and testing that are underway in the region.

“What I have heard from hospital leadership is they feel very good about the testing. They would like to have more tests available to test more people, I do know that,” he said.

He’s concerned about the low amount of supplies — which has been a concern across the country.

“What I do not have is what everyone else does not have enough of, [which] is testing capability. We do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). So, what everyone is struggling with is to keep our providers safe. We are struggling. We are doing everything we can to coordinate, but I would like to have more supplies,” Julian told 10 On Your Side.

So, why aren’t there enough supplies?

“I think it’s because we have never been through anything like this, number one. Number two, it would have been wonderful if we could have had a crystal ball and stockpiled supplies months ago,” he said.

Julian also explained why his health district has had most of the deaths in Virginia from COVID-19 so far. As of Monday afternoon, the Peninsula Health District had reported five of the seven deaths.

That number has something to do with older people traveling.

“We are finding many of our seniors are healthier and tend to congregate in communities and participate in social activities… They also travel,” Julian added.

He gets information from many places. Based on what he knows, his prediction is more bad news before we get good news.

“That’s what I expect will happen. We expect the numbers of deaths and the number of positive cases will go up the next couple of months.”

There are a few things residents can do to flatten the curve of people getting infected.

“Social distancing. Washing your hands. If you’re sick stay home. Call your medical provider. Do not race to the emergency room unless you are very ill and need to go,” Julian said.

Spring break — and those that chose to travel and socialize despite concerns about coronavirus — involved a disregard for the common good, Julian said.

“We saw them out on the beach, in the bars and restaurants going about their business as if it were normal times — and these are not normal times. We need people to cooperate and help defeat this together,” he said.

Julian uses the word inter-dependence, which is defined as two or more people depending on each other.

“We need to be inter-dependent… That we cooperate to flatten the curve and maybe have the lowering of the curve to come quicker, but we need to do all the things that will prevent the spread of the disease,” Julian said.

He also says there is a growing consensus that we need to do even more.

“I think what we want people to do is start to think about staying in place. You go only on essential trips like to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and certainly no more than 10 people in restaurants. Those recommendations may be modified in the near future,” he said.

We also went upstairs to the Peninsula coronavirus call center. More than 500 calls have come in so far.

Irene Ferrainolo is the call center coordinator, and says many of those calls have been looking for answers about whether they should get tested.

“Many of the questions they are getting is should I be tested or not? We give them the guidance to testing and whether to shelter in place. They want to know about the six-foot rule… We answer the questions,” Ferrainolo said.

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