LAKE PLACID — As both a doctor and an elected official, Florida’s House District 55 Rep. Cary Pigman has a unique perspective on the COVID-19 crisis that not many else have.
March 25 marked his fourth consecutive 12-hour shift at an emergency room in Highlands County. Rep. Pigman says there has been a definite increase in the number of people coming into the hospital.
“We started seeing an uptick in patients last Saturday,” Rep. Pigman explained. “Right now the Department of Health is reporting that there’s only four cases in Highlands County, but I happen to know that the number is at least double that. There’s just a delay. The bottom line is that this is in the community. I guarantee you it is in the Heartland.”
Florida’s Department of Health currently lists around 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. But with the strict testing requirements in the early stages of the virus in the state, those numbers may be a significant undercount of how widespread the novel coronavirus actually is.
“The only people we are able to test right now are the sickest of the sick,” said Rep. Pigman. “So at this point we’re missing all those people who just have minor symptoms. But that doesn’t work me up that much, because I just assume if you have a cough, sore throat, runny nose and fever you probably have COVID-19. And for the overwhelming majority of folks, it will just be a cold or no symptoms at all. If you’re having symptoms, stay away from folks and don’t congregate. If you have diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart disease or especially if you’re being treated for cancer, this is a risky time. This is a high-risk time. I think those who have those conditions have a duty to isolate themselves. And those who are having symptoms have a duty to stay away from other people.”
One of the big concerns with COVID-19 has been its potential to overrun the medical system, Rep. Pigman explained. A slogan that has been repeated over and over again is “flatten the curve,” which refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19. If the virus spreads fast and the infection rate is high very quickly, the curve is a sharp incline and the health care system gets overloaded beyond capacity. If we’re able to flatten the curve and decrease the virus’s infection rate, even though the same number of people ultimately get infected, it’ll happen over a longer period of time, meaning the hospital system is not as stressed and fewer sick people will have to wait for a spot in a packed ICU.
In a social media post on March 25, Rep. Pigman implored those that were otherwise healthy who had with a cough, congestion, sore throat or fever to not go to the ER, but instead to self-quarantine for 14 days. He added that you should go to the ER only if you are having a hard time breathing or you are lightheaded.
“Yeah, I got a little bit frustrated this morning and sent out a Facebook post,” Rep. Pigman said with a laugh. “I mean, if you want to totally mess up America’s health care system, then everybody with a runny nose and cough should come to the ER right now. It would clog the system up, and then let’s say your mom comes into the ER with a stroke and she gets exposed to a 20-year old who had a runny nose and then she gets COVID. That really doesn’t help her out.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been resistant to call for a statewide stay-at-home order, and Okeechobee’s state representative said he agrees with that decision.
“People still need to make a living,” Rep. Pigman stated. “I don’t think telling everybody in Okeechobee or Highlands County to stay home and not go outdoors makes sense. Going outside and exercising is a good thing. Just don’t congregate, be careful with people with chronic conditions and the elderly, and we’ll get through this thing.”