Walton County doctors believe first local COVID-19 case was community spread


SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — The doctors who diagnosed Walton County’s first confirmed coronavirus patient are speaking out, urging residents and visitors to take the disease seriously. 

“This is not the flu,” said Dr. Christine Smiley at Doc Smiley’s Urgent Care, where physicians are taking every precaution, screening all patients in their cars before allowing anyone in and screening all patients with coronavirus symptoms outside the office in a tented area. 

Just last week, the woman in Walton County who has now been diagnosed with coronavirus was tested at Doc Smiley’s.

“She had pretty much every sign and symptom, she had a high fever, a cough for several days,” Dr. Christine Smiley, who runs the practice with her husband, J.T..

According to Dr. Christine Smiley, that patient had been in the area since January, so she believes the case was community spread.

She also said that that made getting testing for the patient very difficult, since the screening still requires the patient to have traveled internationally or been in contact with someone with diagnosed COVID-19.

“I called the health department and really thought that at this point we could get her tested,” said Dr. Smiley. “I was told she didn’t meet the criteria.”

After being able to secure five tests from local laboratories, they were finally able to test the patient. By the time she was diagnosed, she needed intensive care at the hospital. 

According to Dr. Smiley, the patient is doing better now, but she said residents and visitors need to be prepared and doing their part to keep the community safe. 

“15 to 20 percent of these people are ending up hospitalized, they’re needing hospital support,” she said. “Those numbers are astronomical and if we don’t slow the spread now, it will overwhelm our hospital system.”

Dr. Smiley said she has seen multiple people with symptoms worth testing for COVID-19 if the testing was readily available; currently, the office only expects to receive 10 to 15 tests per week at most.

Dr. J.T. Smiley added that the data coming from the CDC shows that this virus is sending people to the hospital across all age groups, not just the elderly.

He said it is important for everyone to be following the social distancing guidelines outlined by the CDC and health departments in order to prevent a rapid spread of the disease and the overwhelming of the nation’s health and hospital systems.

“There’s definitely more cases [locally] and that’s why we thought it was important to get it out there that we have a positive case,” he said. “As health care providers watching this coming from across the globe towards us, this is what we’ve been saying. It’s here, but it wasn’t until you have a positive, documented case that people now start taking actions.”

Walton County Department of Health officials said that they immediately began contact tracing for the positive case, and they will continue to use CDC guidelines when it comes to testing at the Walton County Health Department.

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