Friday, July 24, 2020

Q&A with the RMDs: Jeff Toms

To respond to the daily public health needs of Louisianans, the Louisiana Department of Health has divided the state into nine regions. Each of these regions is led by a regional medical director (RMD) or administrator who oversees the parish health units in their region. These public health leaders are in constant contact with state health officials and local leaders to help guide Louisianans through the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among key demographics.

In this Q&A blog series, these public health leaders will be answering the same questions, and together they will paint a statewide perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic and their communities’ response. Today, you’ll hear from Region 8’s Jeff Toms, Regional Administrator for the parishes of Caldwell, East Carroll, Franklin, Lincoln, Jackson, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union and West Carroll.

People have been hearing about the importance of testing so most of the questions I have been getting are about that: Who needs to get tested? Do I need to get tested? How much does it cost to get a test? Where can I get a test? Someone I work with tested positive — what do I need to do?

Relatedly, another question is about the guidance on self-quarantining and when they can return to work after staying at home.  

I do not feel that people fully understand the importance of wearing a mask or social distancing. I hear many people say there are conflicting messages about wearing a mask and the effectiveness of masks. They say they hear different things, even from respectable organizations and trusted leaders.

This is concerning because there really needs to be a consistent message from leaders, whether in public health, business or at the local or state level — study after study shows wearing a mask, especially when done while staying 6 feet away from others and washing your hands often, works.

Personally, I am seeing a decline in both the wearing of masks and in practicing social distancing. It seems there was a drop in following these public health recommendations as restrictions were eased and people began to go out in public.

In the places where people are going more often, they do not seem to be as concerned now, compared to their behavior a month ago, about using a mask or keeping their distance from others.

People either do not know the guidelines, are forgetting to follow the guidelines or are ignoring the guidance altogether. Another challenge is businesses not having the supplies they need, such as masks and gloves, to provide to their employees and to the public. 

Businesses want to accommodate the public, but do so while maintaining social distancing in their businesses, shops and restaurants. This is a challenge as they attempt to operate successfully and safely.

This new normal is frustrating people, based on what I am seeing. The new normal varies for different people and groups. For example, families of a nursing home resident have a different normal than someone who is frustrated because they are missing going to a sporting event. Many of us get frustrated when we can’t express friendliness through a handshake or a hug. And, almost everyone is having to adjust to wearing a mask.

Even though it seems many people are frustrated, it also is encouraging seeing so many people who are doing their part to try to slow the spread of this virus. 

There are too many stories to share. I don’t do social media but my wife does — so during this time I have frequented her Facebook page to read all the encouraging stories of our health heroes in our community. At the same time, there are many, many other stories of people and families who are struggling because of the drastic changes in their lives brought on by this virus. 

I have been so encouraged by the teamwork and partnerships I have seen in this response. So many of our community partners have joined together for this effort.

These partners include the hospitals, clinics, community health centers, nursing homes, parish governments, emergency response agencies at the local and state level, local and state officials, the National Guard, area businesses and so many more who are working together in an inspiring way.

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