Woman battling lupus has message in light of COVID-19: ‘Stay home and heed the warning’

"We need to be in front of the curve, not behind it and trying to catch up."
Posted at 1:47 PM, Mar 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-21 13:47:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The 'what if' is what keeps Anissa Garnett up at night as the spread of COVID-19 continues across Virginia.

"Yeah, we may have enough ventilators and enough beds in our hospitals right now, but what happens if we don't get in front of the curve and close these places?" Garnett asked.

A mother of five and grandmother of four, Garnett lives with lupus, which means her own immune system attacks itself, and she's now scared to go to her doctor's office so she can keep getting the pain medication she needs to live.

"There are things required of you to be in the pain management program, so you have to go in there to get your prescriptions and that is putting people at risk," Garnett said.

To that point, the Medical Society of Virginia says they are asking the state to temporarily suspend the rules governing the prescribing of opioids so patients can take home 14-28 days’ worth of medication.

But that's still in the works, and Garnett worries when she sees stories about people out at parties, or malls, or on spring break vacations.

"They're going to the mall and then they're showing up at my doctor's offices and infecting people, possibly me," Garnett said. "I just wish they would stay home and heed the warning."

Local doctors are also exploring telehealth options so they can treat patients and prescribe medications digitally, and while Garnett is thankful for that, at the end of the day, she wants to see a stronger plan for social distancing by state leaders.

"Do you want to see Virginia enact something where we go to a complete shutdown where only essential services are offered?" CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked.

"Yes, because we need to be in front of the curve, not behind it and trying to catch up," Garnett replied.

Here are some specific questions CBS 6 asked the Medical Society of Virginia, and how they responded: (Questions are in bold)

We’re getting calls from people who need hand written doctors prescriptions for medications-what should they do to get their prescriptions when they can't get into their doctor's office to get a hand written prescription? Moreover, many of these folks are older, and they want to stay in.

The Medical Society of Virginia (MSV) is working to address this issue. MSV is requesting the Virginia Department of Health Professions waive or temporarily suspend, pursuant to Executive Orders 42 and 51, the Regulations Governing Prescribing of Opioids and Buprenorphine [] so that patients can take home medication for between 14 to 28 days treatment depending on what the prescriber believes is most safe for the individual patient.

Physicians are also exploring telehealth options regarding treatment and prescribing; as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) modifies guidance, Virginia physicians will act quickly to provide care to their patients in the most appropriate way.

We’re hearing from people who have to see a doctor but cannot get in. These are folks that don't have COVID symptoms, but perhaps they have strep throat, or their kid is vomiting a lot, or they're having a lot of pain near a tooth---not necessarily medical emergencies, but serious issues. What should they do?

Doctors’ offices are trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and have taken aggressive steps to protect patients and staff. Many practices have reduced staff and implemented staggered or outdoor office visits to help with community spread. Unfortunately, this reduces the amount of time to see patients.

Shifts in the way that health care is delivered during the COVID-19 outbreak will only continue to evolve. Many physicians are working overtime to try and see patients. Some are visiting patients in their homes, while others have exponentially increased phone consultations.

MSV and the Commonwealth are actively engaged in trying to help solve this challenge. Federal guidance has been issued saying that health care providers may use popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype, to provide telehealth. This guidance is essential so providers who give care via telehealth in good faith during the COVID-19 emergency are not at risk for HIPAA related penalties.