Gaff stresses testing, social distancing importance

Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff speaks to a group at the Community Learning Center in Kendallville, reviewing progress made in researching COVID-19 and what still needs to happen before a vaccine is developed.

KENDALLVILLE — With new findings about the COVID-19 pandemic coming every day, for some, it’s hard to discern fact from fiction.

And, for others, it’s difficult to boil the information down to what they need to do to keep themselves and others safe.

On Wednesday night, the Community Learning Center in Kendallville became a place to get questions answered and cut to the quick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There, Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff took questions from a handful of masked attendees plus a few more watching via Facebook live.

In general, Gaff drove home the point that with the vaccine a year or two away, social distancing is necessary, and it’s important to try to get tested.

Gaff also pointed out that social distancing and multiple states’ shut down orders have bought researchers time to try to find out more about the virus and advise the public on how to fight its spread.

One of these developments is the shift from only wearing a mask if you’re sick to now wearing them even when you feel fine.

That’s because we know now, Gaff said, that somewhere near 45-60% of people infected with COVID-19 show no symptoms, but can still spread it.

Still, Gaff is aware that some believe shutting down schools, restaurants and other public places to stop the spread of the virus has done more harm than good.

But, the logic of letting people get sick with COVID-19, letting the most susceptible die and allowing everyone else to go about with their lives doesn’t sit well with Gaff.

That’s a tactic used in controlling livestock populations, Gaff said. As a health professional, he won’t do that with humans.

“I’m not going to cull the herd,” he said.

Attendees followed his overview of the virus with specific questions about testing, spread in Noble County and vaccines.

Is getting tested worth it even with the possibility of a false positive or false negative?

Gaff pulled out some stats on this one.

Say you’re testing 100 people. In one round of testing, half of them actually are infected, but the test is 97% accurate.

You’ll get a result of something like 50 true positives and three false positives, Gaff said.

However, in another scenario with another 100 people, say only one of them is actually infected.

In that second round of testing, one will be a true positive, and three will be false positives — making this round look like it didn’t mean much.

However, no matter whether someone thinks their positive COVID-19 test is real or not, they should still take precautions, Gaff said.

“A positive is not always a positive. A negative is not always a negative. But we have to, at least, we have to consider every positive to be a real positive to be on the safe side,” Gaff said.

The fact of the matter is, Gaff said, that the novel coronavirus is extremely contagious and sneaky in how it spreads, so if someone has tested positive, they need to take it seriously.

Will only an active case test positive?

Essentially, yes, Gaff said.

The nasal swab test offered to the public at the CLC right now tests for how much of the virus someone is shedding when they’re swabbed.

Gaff gave a hypothetical situation of being tested after someone might have felt sick.

“If I’m not shedding the virus anymore because I’m immune, or have at least produced antibodies, then that’s great, and I should test negative,” he said.

How much is COVID-19 spreading in Noble County outside of nursing homes?

To look at this accurately, you have to divide everyone up into three groups: those who live in nursing homes, those who work in them and those who aren’t involved.

Though he didn’t have exact numbers with him at the talk, Gaff said amongst nursing home residents and workers, there are more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in Noble County.

Looking at everyone else, there are fewer than 50 cases.

That doesn’t mean it’s not important to social distance and take precautions, though. Gaff said new cases are being found both inside and outside nursing homes thanks to free testing taking place at the CLC.

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