Local doctor lays out coronavirus hopes, concerns

Dr. Fjeld and staff are boots on the ground during global pandemic


BRANDON – The shortage of medical masks and supplies and the stark reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic is being felt right here at the Brandon Medical Center, now known as Community Health Brandon.

But there have been no positive tests for the virus in Brandon, or among health center staff, said lead physician Dr. George Fjeld.

“We’ve had three co-workers who have tested and were negative,” Fjeld said. “They had up- per respiratory distress and a fever, but it was not COVID-19.”

Fjeld, 63, was interviewed between patients on Tuesday and described the current practices he and his staff are utilizing, as well as the changes they are implementing, to deal with the growing pandemic.

One challenge, however, is the lack of medical supplies, especially N-95 surgical facemasks.

“There is a shortage here of masks, gowns and other sup- plies,” he said. “The N-95 masks seal well around the nose and mouth. They are back ordered. The state did send some plain surgical masks, they just aren’t as good. But some protection is better than no protection.”

Dr. George Fjeld with his team at Brandon Medical Center, now known as Community Health Brandon, from left, Fjeld, Lauren Stacey, Kristen Tudhope, Megan Taylor and Allison Devine. Fjeld is working to ensure patients are being seen using telephone and video conferencing.
Photo by George Fjeld

Fjeld said his office does not do COVID-19 testing, that only the area hospitals can do that testing, and he’s ok with that.

“Actually, collecting for the test is very high-risk,” he said.

“You wear double gloves, face mask, face shield, gown, but once you take down that patient’s mask and swab their nose, the chances of them sneezing on you or getting droplets on you increases tremendously.”

Fjeld said the office is split- ting its 20-member staff in half, with half working in the office and the other half working from home. Then each week, the groups switch.

“If the infection got into our office and infected the whole staff, no one would be here,” he said. “This way, we’ll be able to staff the office if the virus hits us.”

Another notable change is that Fjeld is seeing patients electronically. Visits with patients are often being conducted over the phone and via video conferencing, if their condition allows.

“I saw nine patients today that way,” Fjeld said. “It’s been really successful. It gives us a chance to have contact with patients. Then, we can re-evaluate them in person when the crisis has passed.”

That’s a shot of optimism, but Fjeld is cautious.

“We’re in this rapid rise of cases, but our numbers in Ver- mont are not going up the way other states are,” he said. “It’s either, one, social distancing is working, or two, we’re not testing enough.”

But the longtime Brandon physician said that roughly 25% of people who contract CO- VID-19 do not show any symp- toms.

“It will get into their respira- tory system and replicate, but it won’t cause a cough or a fe- ver,” he said. “In Italy, 60% of the people who initially tested positive had no symptoms at the time of the test.”

Fjeld said wearing a mask in public is a good idea to contain the spread of the virus, and even doubling fabric masks will help.

“The more people wear masks, the less the virus will spread,”

he said. “It doesn’t provide much protection for you, but it will help keep people who are more vulnerable from getting the virus from you.”

Fjeld said he is disappointed with how the United States has reacted to the COVID-19 threat, saying earlier action could have done so much more to stop the spread.

“Everything we can do, we’re doing,” he said. “As a country, we got caught with our pants down as far as not having the necessary supplies and equipment. The earlier we would have started, the better the handle we would have had on it.”

Fjeld has been practicing medicine in Brandon for 36 years. The only thing he could think of historically that is comparable tot his pandemic was the Spanish flu epidemic during World War I.

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “This is a new kind of war. It’s really scary. We do the best we can with what we know.”

As for patients without insurance or who don’t have a primary care physician, Fjeld said they could call the Brandon Medical Center.

We’re not concerned about how we get paid as much as how we can help people,” he said. “We can help people without insurance. Right now, we’re happy to help anyone we can.”

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