To The Editor:
Concern about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is gripping our nation and our community. At a time when so many are sheltering at home and watching the news on television and smartphones, we see fears and worries are escalating. Social media outlets are lighting up like we’ve never seen before, generating more fear and anxiety with each new day.
We write today to try to ease fears in our community with some facts.
As health care leaders, we implore the community to heed the advice of public health experts asking those who can to stay at home, to keep your distance, and to practice hand and face hygiene. This is the single best thing you can do right now to slow the spread of coronavirus in our community.
Although we know COVID-19 has already infected people in our area, we have a lot of confidence in our ability to keep its spread at a lower rate to manage it and save more lives.
Initiatives taken by Mercy caregivers and staff are focused on protecting our patients and each other. We have intentionally reduced our services for patients who can wait for an elective surgery, procedure or imaging. We are monitoring everyone who comes into our clinics and hospital for symptoms, and appropriately managing those with cough and fever to where they can be evaluated safely. The fewer people who need to be in our facilities right now, the safer we keep our health care teams who stand ready to provide care where and when needed.
We have developed and are implementing plans to add more capacity to our emergency department and hospital to care for COVID-19 patients, and we’re implementing those plans in a manner that isolates COVID-19 suspected or COVID-19 confirmed patients from other patients. This includes dedicated care teams to minimize them from going back and forth between patients.
We have opened special respiratory illness clinics throughout our communities to care for these particularly vulnerable patients while keeping other patients safe. We are working closely with our brave EMS and public safety leaders to ensure good communications and preparedness. We are in daily communication with our care teams, with county officials and with our Mercy leaders to be sure we’re learning from each other.
We have opened a COVID-19 test collection site to get high-risk patients with symptoms swabbed and tested. Due to a limited number of COVID-19 testing supplies across the U.S., only patients who are very ill and meet COVID-19 criteria are currently being tested. At the time of this writing, we have swabbed about 200 patients from our service area, and we are waiting for those results. Everyone with appointments at the test collection site is informed that home isolation is necessary for themselves and anyone living with them until we notify them of the results. If conditions worsen, they can contact our nurse-on-call team, who will guide care for them. When the result is positive, Mercy Virtual will monitor the patient twice a day at home, as well as notify the health department and the patient’s primary care provider.
Our clinics and hospital here in Four Rivers/Washington have tested another 200 patients thus far. We have had two positive cases, with many test results pending. When we identify someone in our hospital or clinics with a positive COVID-19 test, we directly and swiftly contact all potentially exposed care team staff and patients, and we advise them to monitor symptoms and contact a Mercy hotline or their primary care provider if they begin to experience symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and sore throat within a 14-day period.
We follow the clinically based recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The recommendation from the CDC and state of Missouri epidemiologists is that people are most contagious when they are symptomatic, which means while some spread is possible before symptoms arise, it is a much smaller risk.
Following this guidance, we ask our care team members to report any sign of symptoms immediately and then instruct them to go home and call their primary care doctor. However, out of an abundance of caution, we identify who was near that co-worker the day before the symptoms started, and we ask them to closely monitor themselves and wear a face mask that will protect those around them until they are cleared 14 days later. This is currently a best practice to slow the spread of the virus in a clinical setting and remain in operation to treat patients in our community.
We share these facts and details with you today hoping they demonstrate for you a sense of preparedness and a sound plan for slowing the spread in our community. We are doing our part to be very careful and cautious for you and for each other. We hope you are doing your part to keep your distance from one another, and practice hand and face hygiene. Together we will get through this.