In a recent interview with Chickasaw.tv reporter Quin Tran, Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim offered his insights on how to navigate COVID-19 and the winter flu season.
He also discussed what is in the works for the Chickasaw Nation and efforts to assist the community and the state of Oklahoma with COVID-19 vaccine distribution, including new Chickasaw Nation facilities and plans.
The interview is available online at Chickasaw.net.
There are two main health concerns. The Chickasaw Nation Department of Health (CNDH) is concerned patients will possibly contract both the flu and COVID-19, and Oklahoma hospitals will reach maximum capacity.
The number of staffed beds available at a hospital is influenced by both influxes of community cases as well as events occurring within hospitals themselves.
The Oklahoma Hospital Association (OHA) cites a number of factors that could affect capacity on the hospital side of the equation. These include a pre-COVID-19 shortage of nurses and health care professionals in Oklahoma, the likelihood of some personnel needing to be quarantined due to exposure and the need to send nurses to other hot spots across the country.
“It can happen overnight or over a weekend. A hospital can go from feeling like they have adequate capacity to being full. We have had some sustained spread of the virus, and now we are starting to see increases across the country. Now is the time to be very vigilant,” he said.
“There has been a lot of talk from very early on that winter may be a very difficult time for us and that we could see another rise, and we’re starting to see that,” Dr. Grim explained. “We’ve been doing this for six months. We just need people to hold on a little longer to get through the winter.”
Grim said there are a number of factors which exacerbate the spread of viruses this time of year, including the prevalence of closed space gatherings for celebrations and the tendency to stay indoors due to the cold. Additionally, studies have shown an association between drier air and increased spread of infectious particles.
“Now is the time to keep our guard up as we come into the winter months,” Dr. Grim said. “As we know, the virus spreads through droplets. Wearing a mask does help stop the spread of infectious diseases, coupled with washing your hands regularly and staying at least 6 feet away from people.”
The Chickasaw Nation has recommended wearing a mask in public, washing your hands thoroughly and responsible distancing since the beginning of the pandemic. This time of year, the Chickasaw Nation also recommends a fourth precaution: get a flu shot.
Flu vaccinations are available to anyone at CNDH testing sites, located in the parking lots of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center and Chickasaw Nation clinics in Ardmore, Purcell and Tishomingo. The vaccinations are available Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Hours of operation are subject to change during inclement weather.
In addition, Chickasaw Nation Public Health Nursing is providing no cost flu shot clinics at various locations throughout the Chickasaw Nation, including community centers. Anyone 6 months and older can be vaccinated at these events. Masks and responsible distancing will be required.
For up-to-date flu shot information, visit Chickasaw.net/flu.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution progress
“Everyone is extremely hopeful that there’s going to be a vaccine very soon for COVID-19. In fact, the worldwide effort on this vaccine has never occurred before, where you have so many manufacturers working on the development of the vaccine for a single disease like this,” Dr. Grim said.
The Chickasaw Nation is preparing to assist the state of Oklahoma with the distribution of vaccines once they are available. The construction at the old K-Mart in Ada will be pivotal.
“We’re calling it our emergency operations center. Because it has such a big parking lot, we will be able to manage 16 lanes of traffic to come through and get vaccines,” he said.
When planning the facility, care was taken to ensure adequate storage capacity and the ultra low temperature freezers needed to get vaccines out to the public quickly.
“With all of our four centers open and this new center we hope to have open by the end of December, we could potentially do 4,500 vaccines a day. As you can see that would provide a lot of coverage to our counties and this part of the state,” Dr. Grim said.
Expansions to the Chickasaw Nation Ada South Campus will also play a role in the response to COVID-19.
New space was needed for the five new laboratory instruments purchased for COVID-19 diagnostics, including state-of-the-art rapid testing and antibody machines.
“We also have an exciting announcement about an addition to our Ada South Campus,” Dr. Grim explained. “Plans are underway for a Chickasaw Nation Alternative Care Facility. The Alternative Care Facility is necessary to increase our capacity and ability to care for patients, provide critical testing and training, and improve mitigation measures.”
The new facility will have a large, open and easy to convert space available to equip as needed for COVID-19 surges. It will include 48 additional inpatient beds, equipment and supply storage, temporary walls (partitions), and space for employee education and patient simulation training.
“We are continuing to monitor relevant data on the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Grim said. “We’re taking this virus very seriously and will continue to protect our employees, patrons, citizens and communities. We encourage you to stay informed of the latest developments and utilize face coverings when at least 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.”
Criteria for COVID-19 testing:
- Must be at least 18 years old or accompanied by an adult
- Must have valid photo ID
- Must be able to drive safely through the test site
- No walk-ups or bicycles
- No pets in vehicle
- Exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case
- If applicable, provide health insurance card and/or CDIB or tribal affiliation verification
- Provider orders or referral strongly preferred but not required