COVID-19 NC: Metrics, Masks & Telemedicine

May 16, 2020

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News Founding Editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss  the latest COVID-19 metrics, how the public is responding to the modified stay-home order as Phase-2 approaches along with the recent surge in telemedicine and the challenges for rural communities.

HC: We are one week into Phase-1, North Carolina’s modified stay-home order, but I feel like some people are living in or have zoomed ahead to phase two.  So, I want to get your thoughts about how this week and looking ahead.

I was out yesterday doing some reporting and I had my mask on and most of the folks I was talking to had their masks on, but there were plenty of people out there with no mask on.  At the same time when you drive around, I'm seeing people with masks hanging off their rear-view mirrors in their cars.   I was talking to an epidemiologist who made the comment that in a lot of ways during phase one when everything was shut down, we could sort of do projections and look ahead. And it was relatively easy because you had taken out the huge variable of people's behavior because everybody was staying at home. Now as we get into phase two, a lot will depend on people's behavior. And you know, when I was still practicing nursing, I remember saying to people all the time that the hardest thing to alter is people's behavior.  

HC: NC Health News had an interesting article on coronavirus and telehealth, a subject Lilly Knoepp and I tackled this week,  Your reporter Liora Engel-Smith did a deep dive into the challenge of broadband access in rural areas, which is a big issue here in Western North Carolina.

As you know, North Carolina has some of the most what they call white space in the country in terms of the percentage of population, you know, places where good cell service doesn't reach and certainly not broadband. And so, this is a real challenge and this could again exacerbate that difference between the haves and have-nots. Oh, here are people that have access to broadband, they have access to a cell phone, they can get care here - or people who live down a mountain road, they don't have broadband and their cell service is kind of lousy. So they're not going to have access to telehealth and they're still going to have to rely on transportation to get to the doctor and all that stuff  The one thing that's kind of nice is that I saw,  there is a bill that has been presented at the General Assembly and it's got bipartisan sponsorship. It would increase access to broadband services either by growing the existing program, which is called GREAT - Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology by allowing municipalities to provide broadband services directly  or through some combination of the above.   So there is some hope there.  It's on the radar of our legislators and they are going to be coming back to Raleigh next week.

HC: What’s on tap for next week at NC Health News?  I know we'll be doing some more on skilled nursing facilities. We've been tracking the poultry plants. And I'm doing something more on the uninsured. We just have so much cooking. It's really exciting to work with this team.

About Rose Hoban: 

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health, policy and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at northcarolinahealthnews.org