BOISE, Idaho — Dr. Brent Russell, an emergency room physician at St. Luke’s Wood River Valley Medical Center in Blaine County, tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday.
While he is recovering at home in Blaine County and has been in isolation for 10 days, he was able to talk to KTVB over Facetime on Tuesday. Dr. Russell chronicled what his experience has been like fighting the coronavirus and what people need to know about this growing pandemic.
He explained that his test results took four days to come back, but noted that a lack of available test kits is hindering the medical community’s ability to respond to this pandemic.
His warning to everyone is that people need to take this seriously, to practice social distancing and to stay at home. He recently wrote an opinion piece for the Idaho Mountain Express with a message that people should follow the guidelines in order to protect themselves and the community.
Here is the interview between Dr. Russell and Maggie O'Mara below:
Note: The interview has been edited for clarity.
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Maggie: Dr. Russell, tell us what symptoms you had before you were diagnosed?
Dr. Russell: So, I got sick with some vague symptoms about two weeks ago, then I got better. A few days later, I got really sick again. At that point, I developed a fever and developed symptoms that would be consistent with the coronavirus, I got a swab. Then the following day I got a lot sicker, really shaky, chills and fever, and then I found out I tested positive last Thursday. Since then, I have moments, where I am completely normal and I have moments where I'm sort of overwhelmed with fatigue. That's a common symptom.
Maggie: Were you seeing patients with the same symptoms? Do you know where you may have come into contact with it since we know it's obviously there in Blaine County?
Dr. Russell: Yeah, you know it's, of course, it's impossible to know. But we definitely had patients showing symptoms, and that's where you know people have gotten exposed. Now doctors are using protective equipment with every patient because you have to assume anyone has it. Skiing is a really high-risk activity because you're shoulder to shoulder with people on the chairlift you're turning to talk to them. Or, if you're riding the ski gondola and six people three to a row facing each other, those are really high-risk behaviors for a virus to jump around.
Maggie: What's your view on what's happening there at your hospital, St. Luke’s Wood River Valley?
Dr. Russell: Well, I've been out since I was sick, but I do know that we have a lot of COVID-19 here. We have a lot of people that are being transferred out that are very ill, which are requiring hospitalization, which means they have low oxygen levels. And, you know, there are lots of people being transferred, and I think the rate in the valley is really high.
Maggie: What would you say to people out there who are, who are still gathering, or still getting together in parks and going to bars that haven't shut down or restaurants, and really have no idea that yes, this could impact the lower age group?
Dr. Russell: Yeah, exactly. The thing with the viruses it's, it's very sneaky as all kinds of people have no symptoms. So, that means anyone that you meet, anyone you're around could have it. The best thing you can do for your fellow mankind, for your fellow Idahoans, is to stay home and not get sick.
Maggie: Tell me about this piece you wrote for the Idaho Mountain Express? Why were you compelled to do that? It was very serious, and then it took kind of an uplifting we can do this together tone. Tell me about that piece and why you decided to write it?
Dr. Russell: I enjoy writing, and I felt like there's a warning message that needs to get out. I'm not a cautious person by nature, and other sorts of national scares we've had - SARS or Ebola, I thought we were kind of overreacting a little bit, but I don't think like that this time at all. I think that this is clearly - how you and I behave, is going to change the outcome of this disease.
Russell said he is disappointed in the federal response to the COVID-19 outbreak here in the United States. He explained that we lost a couple of months when we should have been preparing a vaccine, producing coronavirus tests, and manufacturing protective equipment.
He added the messaging from the Trump administration was very weak initially, and that’s why people haven’t taken this pandemic seriously enough.
On the state level, Russell said all efforts should be put towards truly making people understand the severity of this disease. He explained that people need to stay home, practice social distancing, and wait out the pandemic until we are safe so that people don’t lose their lives needlessly.
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