Walton doctor talks reopening: ‘A double-edged sword’

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Dr. Christine Smiley’s Urgent Care clinic in Walton County was home to Walton’s first confirmed case of coronavirus back in March, News 13 reported. She remains positive moving into Phase II of reopening, but predicts that there will be another spike in cases with the rise in tourism.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” she said.

As a small business owner, Smiley said that she understands the need to reopen, but that another spike and increased spread could set the economy back even further, closing businesses for the rest of the summer.

“Will we see an increase in cases? Probably,” Smiley said. “But if everyone can work together, then I think that we can really slow the spread of this.”

Smiley said that when cases began increasing, she and her staff were overwhelmed, not having enough personal protective equipment or access to test kits. But, the stay-at-home and social distancing orders that the state implemented contributed to a dramatic decrease in cases.

Since then, Smiley says that the numbers had remained steadily low, making her both confident in the government’s phased plan to reopen the economy, and cautious of the likely rise in cases the area will see due to increases in tourism.

Smiley added that an advantage that the Panhandle has over most other places is that most of the activity is outside, where the transmission rate of the virus is much lower compared to inside. She also said that most viruses don’t like to warm weather and humidity, but that it is still unclear of how COVID-19 will respond.

“I think going to the beach with your family or close friends and socially distancing is Okay, that’s Okay,” Smiley added. “It’s more if people get in big groups, if they’re having parties, if they’re not being respectful of others, then that’s where we can get into trouble.”

At this point, Smiley’s clinic is only testing for antibodies. She said that about 2% of Walton County has tested positive for antibodies, but even if the antibodies are present, it is unclear how long one remains immune.

While Smiley remains positive about the reopening, she wanted to stress the idea of social responsibility during the reopening.

“I’m concerned that if everybody goes back to normal and thinks, “oh, we’re great, we can reopen again,’ that we can have a huge spike again,” she said.

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