TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A Tyler physician who tested three of the patients who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in Smith County said social distancing, staying inside, and being aware of your own health are the best ways to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Dr. Stephen Spain, a family physician in Tyler, said it was a shock to get those first positive test results back.
“Of the first 15 people we tested, three came back positive,” he said. “That was frightening to me. I was surprised.”
Since that time, he said, he has tested “probably twice that many people” and has seen no further positives, “so I’m encouraged by that.”
Currently, there are 33 cases of COVID-19 in East Texas, 21 in Smith County and one death.
Spain was fortunate in that he had partnered with a lab that proved able to test for COVID-19.
He started working with the lab about a year ago, before the virus was on the world’s radar. But the lab was able to test for a variety of respiratory viruses, including four that were in the coronavirus family.
When COVID-19 exploded onto the world stage, Spain said he and the lab started tooling up to test for that one, aided by news that the FDA would relax regulations regarding testing to help speed the process.
Spain worked with the lab’s personnel to setup procedures for testing for the highly contagious virus that would keep as many people as possible as safe as possible. Those efforts led to the construction of a “pop-up” tent behind the lab, which allows patients with appointments to drive through and be tested without ever leaving their vehicles.
Yet while he and that lab were able to get off the ground so quickly, that has not been the story across the country.
“Particularly from a testing standpoint, I wish we had been more prepared,” Spain said. While the goverment is now “rolling out resources pretty quickly and pretty efficiently,” the virus, with its virulence and rate of spread, “caught all of us off guard.”
“I had a little bit of inkling that it was coming and was fortunate to have a setup with a lab that could do some testing for us,” he said. “By and large, though, I think that the ability to test for the virus has been one of the biggest problems in being able to stop its spread.”
Testing, however, isn’t the only or even best defense against COVID-19.
“I think what people need to understand,” Spain said, “is that if you’re sick, particularly if you think you’ve been exposed, you should seek testing or talk to your health care provider about whether you should be tested. And if you’re sick and you’ve been exposed and might have the virus, you definitely need to act as if you have it and could be exposing others. Quarantine yourself for 14 days, or at least until you’ve tested positive.”
With the virus now the main topic of discussion anywhere in this country, Spain said he hopes we have learned some lessons from it.
“I think now we understand what a virus like this can do to our country, so I think people are going to take it much more seriously the next time around and respond more readily,” he said. “I think we’ll have a lot more resources at our disposal the next time this happens. Because there probably will be another time.”
Now, however, COVID-19 is the enemy to be fought, and Spain repeated his advice.
“I think the main thing is to continue to social distance. If you’re sick, ask your healthcare provider about testing, especially if you think you’ve been exposed to coronavirus. People who are sick should stay indoors and not be around other folks.”