It’s not an overreaction. The steps being taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 are a strategic approach to managing the stress the virus will put on hospitals, said Dr. Matthew Logan, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Self Regional Medical Center.
“Honestly I was a lot like that at first, I thought this was a huge overreaction, it’s just another virus, this is no big deal,” he said. “But then I got to thinking about it differently.”
Self serves about 250,000 people in the region. If just 1% of those patients require admission at the hospital for COVID-19 related medical issues, and only a quarter of those patients have to be put on a ventilator, Logan said that would be 2,500 people admitted and more than 600 in need of ventilator support.
“If that happens over six months, that’s not a problem, but if it happens all at once over the course of just a few weeks, we can’t handle it,” Logan said. “The big thing for me is to avoid that big surge all at once.”
That’s the idea behind canceling or delaying sporting events, concerts and public gatherings. The practice is called social distancing, and in conjunction with individual preventative actions such as washing hands and avoiding unnecessary contact with the face, it can slow the spread of the virus.
For hospital staff, the focus is on screening and testing. To that end, Self has put in place a new process for COVID-19 screening and testing that will kick off Monday. Anyone with concerns that they might have been exposed to the virus can call the hospital’s new COVID-19 screening line at 864-725-4200 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Staff will ask a series of questions to determine if the caller meets the DHEC criteria for testing, and if they do, they’ll receive a scheduled time to go to a drive-through specimen collection site.
There, a nurse wearing protective gear will swab patients in their cars, which will limit how many people are exposed to the patient. The screening site will only be available to people who have been directed there through the screening phone line, or by their physician. Once the patient has been swabbed, their sample is sent to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for testing.
But who qualifies to be tested? The CDC has set guidelines for who should be tested, which include anyone who has recently traveled to Italy, Iran, China or a number of other countries. Anyone recently exposed to someone else who knows they’ve been exposed to the virus should also be tested. People experiencing symptoms similar to those produced by COVID-19 might also qualify.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, China and was reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31. This respiratory illness comes with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, and many patients have been reported as having pneumonia in both lungs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The better informed our community is, the better prepared we’ll be,” said Jim Pfeiffer, Self’s president and CEO. “Because this is a novel strain of the coronavirus, there are things we don’t know. Is there built up immunity in some people — we don’t know that.”
This is a new strain of the coronavirus with a new genetic makeup. Although there isn’t a vaccine currently developed to inoculate people to the virus, Pfeiffer said one will eventually be developed.
As of about noon Friday, Self had only tested one patient, and the results were still pending, Logan said.
As a precaution, Logan added that anyone wanting to see a physician should call ahead, particularly if they’re experiencing any respiratory symptoms. He said a call ahead lets staff know they need to prepare by wearing a mask or some other kind of protective gear. Pfeiffer added the emergency room is not the place to go for people who think they should be tested — going to the emergency room puts additional strain on emergency staff and potentially exposes others to the virus.
Self is putting visitor restrictions in place starting 7 a.m. Monday, not allowing in people who have signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection or who has been in contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis or is under investigation for a diagnosis of COVID-19, or anyone who has traveled to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Japan or other parts of Europe. No visitors younger than 18 will be allowed, and only two visitors per patient will be permitted. Additional restrictions might be imposed based on the patient’s status, and even if someone is well, Self staff are urging people to consider not visiting if they are pregnant, have a weakened immune system or have a lung condition or breathing difficulties.
While the public is being urged to wash their hands, avoid unnecessary face-touching and practice social distancing, Pfeiffer said the hospital’s administration is in constant communication with other hospital systems and is learning from the successes and struggles of healthcare systems in other countries.
At the Abbeville Area Medical Center, patient visitation is being limited to immediate family members only and no visitors under the age of 16 are being allowed in. Breakfast and lunch services for the public are suspended until the threat of the virus has passed.
“Our Coronavirus Preparation Team is working hard to monitor and prepare for any situation by receiving daily website updates from the CDC, scheduled DHEC calls, reviewing all protocols and making sure all staff are aware and following these procedures,” a statement on the AAMC website said.
Staff at the hospital are urging people to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. People should keep a distance of about 6 feet when in close contact, and should avoid contact with anyone who is sick or has flu-like symptoms.
Anyone near AAMC who suspects they’ve been exposed to the virus should call before going to any of these facilities:
Abbeville Area Medical Center, 864-366-5011 and dial 0 for operator
Healthcare Center, 864-366-1770
Savannah Lakes Family Medicine, 864-366-1770
Due West Family Medicine, 864-379-2345
Patients might be asked to wait in their car or come in at a different entrance when they arrive. MUSC Health is offering a free virtual visit for people using the promo code “COVID 19.”