COVID-19 talk: East Texas not yet at point to return to normal | News

UT Health East Texas physician Dr. Julie Philley doesn't think we're at the point of returning to what’s deemed a “normal life” yet when it comes to COVID-19.

“We’re hoping sooner than later,” she said. “What I can say, today we are able to manage the cases that we have and we can do so with great effectiveness.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Dr. Julie Philley, a UT Health East Texas physician, fielded questions from northeast Texas residents this week about the COVID-19 virus.

Hughes organized the hour-long teleconference call, inviting constituents to hear updated information from an area doctor who is treating COVID-19 patients. Philley, a professor of medicine at UT Health Center Tyler and leader of critical care at UT Health East Texas, answered everything from specific COVID-19 symptoms to what treatment has been explored for recovery.

When asked if health professionals had a hunch on when the pandemic may end, Philley said her hope and prayer is as soon as humanly possible. 

Being a new virus, she said they haven’t found a proven cure yet.

“What I can assure you is there are many of us that are committed — and many researchers — to do whatever it takes to help find the right vaccine that would help in the treatment and prevention of this,” Philley said.

Philley said research has shown the virus is spreading so rapidly through droplets.

“So if you’re close to someone within six feet and someone coughs on you, breathes heavy around you, and get their secretions on you, the virus can be spread in that way,” she said.

She said researchers currently do not know if people that have had the virus are immune from getting it again.

When asked the age range of those who have been mostly impacted, Hughes said the virus is more susceptible to the elderly and those with underlying health issues. He said fortunately, so far in Texas, only 7 to 8 percent that have tested positive are being hospitalized.

“That’s the lowest percentage that other states are experiencing, so we’re encouraged about that,” Hughes said.

Regarding COVID-19 symptoms, Philley said the novel coronavirus often presents with a fever and cough and sometimes shortness of breath. Some patients have reported additional things, such as changes in smell and taste as well as diarrhea.

When asked about the effectiveness of quinine as it relates to COVID-19, Philley noted that quinine was the first drug used to treat malaria. Due to that fact, people are now raising the question on whether chloroquine, a synthetic form of quinine, could be used to treat COVID-19.

“We do not have any research studies that show quinine helps with that,” she said.

Regarding the readily available supplies of hydroxychloroquine, an arthritis medicine that also can be used to prevent malaria, Hughes said the state was blessed to receive a million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets from Amneal Pharmaceuticals, of New Jersey, for potential use in treating COVID-19.

“That’s been sent to hospitals all over the state, as needed,” said Hughes.

Explaining the history of the drugs, Philley reiterated that chloroquine first came out as an antimalarial drug, and was followed by hydroxy.

“Both of these drugs have been studied in the past related to viral infections, but here we are in 2020 with this COVID-19,” she said.

“There’s been a few small studies that patients that took this cleared the virus more quickly than those that did not,” Philley said. “We still don’t know exactly how this works or what the long-term benefit is.”

Philley said she appreciates the state for acquiring the extra drugs, saying it may be beneficial and they're using the drug on a case-by-case basis.

Regarding vitamins that may help the immune system fight the disease, Philley said her patients have said taking over-the-counter Vitamin C has made them feel better — as well as Mucinex, which helps thins out mucus.

Answering inquiries on how voters will be protected from COVID-19 during the November election, Hughes noted elections have always pressed on — even through war and other pandemics. He cited the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.

“We should be through this; but, if we’re not, we’re already putting some things in place," Hughes said, including discussions of making the early voting period longer to allow more time to vote and also providing more voting machines to allow for more polling places.

“(There’s) many things we could do to spread people out, to make sure we can vote and still practice social distancing,” he said.

The doctor said she is encouraged that the sun will come out again.

“We’re going to have to live a certain degree of uncertainty of whatever tomorrow holds,” she said. However, “you’re going to see another rainbow.”

In the meantime, she encouraged everyone to frequently wash their hands, wear masks and continue to practice physical distancing from others.

“Please do not live in a spirit of fear, but of preparedness and sound mind,” she said. “(Know) that there are many people here to take care of us and we are here in this together.”

“With the grace of God, we’ll get through,” he said, sharing the Bible verse Psalm 46:1.


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