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Health officials answer questions submitted by readers, staff about COVID-19

Full interview is posted in video at the end of article.

Ann Stehn (left), Horizon Public Health administrator, along with Dr. Deb Dittberner, Alomere Health chief medical officer, are pictured in screenshot from a Zoom recorded video interview where they answered questions about COVID-19. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Because health officials are continually learning about the transmission of the coronavirus, both Dr. Deb Dittberner, Alomere Health chief medical officer, and Ann Stehn, Horizon Public Health, still advise people to wear face coverings when out and around people, especially when social distancing is a challenge.

In a Zoom recorded video interview Friday, June 5, Stehn and Dittberner answered a series of questions submitted by readers and Echo Press staff members. The full video is available on the Echo Press website and can be accessed by everyone, regardless of subscription status.

A couple questions were asked pertaining to masks. One was in regard to who should people believe when it comes to mask wearing – the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.

Stehn said mask wearing has been one of the hardest things to talk about because there have been changing messages and a lot of nuances behind the messages.

In the beginning stages of COVID-19, Stehn said the concern was having and getting medical grade personal protective equipment to medical and other health care providers and not running out. So in that context, the message was about not using masks for the general public.


“We were really not wanting to divert anything anyway from the health care providers,” said Stehn. “But as the situation has gone along and we’ve learned more, both the CDC and the World Health Organization are recommending broad face coverings, particularly out in the community. We are strongly encouraging people to wear a face covering when they are out in public spaces.”

Stehn said it is about a community effort to slow down and decrease transmission so that people can start doing some of the very things people are so anxiously waiting to do.

Stehn also pointed out that when people are looking at information and doing their research about what they should or shouldn’t be doing, she stressed to check the date of information. If an article is dated from March, April or May, chances are it is outdated. The information should be the most current as the coronavirus situation is rapidly changing.

Dittberner emphasized the word “World” in the World Health Organization, with information that might apply to countries that lack cloth for face masks or the ability to wash masks regularly.

The CDC continues to provide information on why people should be wearing a mask.

“What we're doing when we're wearing masks is something called source control,” said Dittberner. “It’s the same reason when you’re having abdominal surgery in an operating room and you want all the people working in that room to wear a mask when you are opened up because you want all of them to source control and not let bacteria or droplets fall into the surgical field.”

She said people wearing masks are doing the same thing. The point is to get the majority of the virus stopped by wearing a mask.

“That’s the purpose of masks, source control,” she stressed. “It’s me trying to prevent my talking, sneezing, coughing and breathing and getting to someone who is more vulnerable.”


Dittberner said it is important to acknowledge that the coronavirus is an aerosol transmitted virus in addition to droplets.

“Droplets are when it's stuck in the mucus,” Dittberner said. “But we also know that the majority of this virus is stuck in mucus and in wet droplets and that a small amount of it is aerosolized.”

Herd immunity

When asked about herd immunity, Dittberner said herd immunity means that a certain percentage of the population has had the disease and has antibodies, which means they would no longer be able to spread the disease.

She said that is what Sweden is doing by not social distancing or wearing masks and from what she read, it is not going as well as planned. For the month of May, Sweden was hoping to get to 30% herd immunity and they only reached somewhere between 6% and 9%.

“It takes a while to get to herd immunity. It’s not something that can just happen,” said Dittberner. “You’re taking a gamble. What if the United States went for herd immunity. Would it be millions of people dying? Or is the gamble better to try and wait for the vaccine, do the isolation, do the masking and do the washing of the hands and disinfecting?”

Right now, Dittberner said that is what public health leaders, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Donald Trump's infectious disease expert, and others are recommending – to isolate and wait for the vaccine or treatments.

When will it be over?

So how will people know the coronavirus is over? That was one of the last questions asked before Dittberner and Stehn gave their final thoughts.

Stehn said it is going to be a variety of things, including getting to herd immunity and the virus starting to fizzle out because it doesn’t have anywhere to travel, that there are effective treatments, medications, antivirals or that there is widespread availability of an effective vaccine.


“It is challenging for everyone. We can see and feel how challenging this is for everyone,” she said.

Dittberner added that people will know when it is over when big events can be held again and people no longer are being asked to wear masks.

“Ann and I will know it differently because there won’t be any more positive tests or any more ICU’s for COVID patients,” she added. “But the general population will know when they get to go to those concerts where you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, crammed in there and you feel comfortable.”

For more in-depth information and to hear the answers from Dittberner and Stehn, go to the Echo Press website and watch the hour-long video.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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