COVID-19 testing criteria changes locally

Preparations continue for possible influx of serious cases
By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer
Medical providers continue to make changes as the COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019, pandemic continues to evolve, with emergency orders in effect at the local, county, regional, state and national levels.
Locally, medical providers continue to be cautious testing individuals due to the shortages of test kits, masks and other protective equipment.
As of mid-day Wednesday, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb reported that PSMC had done five lab tests, with one test coming back negative and four pending, with no critically ill patients locally.
In light of the current nationwide and local shortages of coronavirus COVID-19 diagnostic testing kits, masks and other protective equipment, the Colorado Hospital Association and San Juan Basin Public Health are recommending that hospital caregivers assume patients who present with COVID-19 symptoms have the disease, and treat them according to CDC guidelines —a practice PSMC is implementing.
“No one in the nation has the ability to lab test an entire community to determine the true number of cases in the community,” Webb told The SUN Tuesday.
At PSMC, testing is being reserved for critically ill, hospitalized patients who have COVID-19 symptoms.
Those who have COVID-19 symptoms but do not require hospitalization will be treated according to the protocol recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for persons who test positive for the disease.
“We are being proactive in preparing for a potential influx of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus, and at the same time, ensuring our ability to continue caring for the many patients we normally see,” Webb said. “As a community, we can flatten the pandemic curve and keep each other safe by practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate and call your healthcare provider.”
Eventually, Webb told The SUN, even with limited testing, there will be a positive test.
She reiterated, “People need to hear that message: Flatten that curve.”
PSMC reported that it may expand testing when more tests and protective equipment become available.
To further help prepare for the possible influx of cases, PSMC also announced several operational changes Tuesday, including medical visits by phone and postponing elective procedures.
“In an effort to encourage social distancing, PSMC is offering primary care and mental health visits by phone. In-person visits will continue to be available as medically appropriate,” a press release from the organization states.
PSMC is also postponing elective surgeries scheduled from Wednesday, March 18 through Tuesday, March 31, and is tentatively scheduling elective surgeries for April 1 or later.
Resumption of elective surgeries will occur as appropriate, with the guidance from San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the Colorado Hospital Association and the CDC, the press release indicates.
PSMC patients who have questions about scheduled elective surgical procedures should call 507-3925.
PSMC’s emergency department, walk-in urgent care, urgent and emergent surgical and diagnostic services continue to see patients.
“We know postponing elective surgeries is inconvenient to our patients, and we thank them for their understanding. Our goal is to make sure we ensure the safety of patients, visitors, and staff, and always have the resources on hand to care for all of our patients, including those who may contract COVID-19,” Webb said. “As a community, each of us can help flatten a potential spike in COVID-19 infections by taking simple actions such as social distancing and visiting a doctor by telephone rather than in person when possible. Flattening the curve — the potential spike in coronavirus cases — will ensure our hospital has the capacity, including supplies, equipment, staff and other resources — to meet the ongoing healthcare needs of the community.”
Webb reported Wednesday that PSMC also anticipates changing its visitor policy to no visitors, with very few exceptions, in an attempt to lessen extra human interactions.
Local mask shortage
To help meet demand for a potential influx of severe COVID-19 patients, PSMC is asking for the community to donate packages of unused N-95 masks and, if able, sew surgical masks for the facility.
Webb noted that, if the facility were to see a worst-case scenario, it would not have enough, pointing out that one Georgia hospital used a six-month supply of masks in a week.
She noted that PSMC would put out the materials and pattern and provide information for a YouTube tutorial on the project.
Anyone interested in sewing masks for PSMC is asked to contact Heather Thomas at 507-3815 or Heather.Thomas@PSMedicalCenter.org.
COVID-19 symptoms and medical contacts
COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Those who experience these symptoms should self-quarantine and call their healthcare provider for a treatment plan.
Following are the phone numbers for local medical providers:
• PSMC: 731-3700.
• Pagosa Medical Group: 372-0456.
• Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.
• Those without a doctor can call SJBPH at 247-5702, option 1.
Prevention
The CDPHE suggests the following preventative actions:
• Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
• Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cellphones, using regular household products.
The CDPHE also suggests practicing social distancing:
• Don’t shake hands. Instead, bump fists or elbows.
• When possible, increase distance between people to six feet to help reduce spread.
• Consider whether you want to take a trip or attend public gatherings.
• Follow CDC guidelines on travel.
• If there is ongoing spread in your community, consider reducing the number of large group gatherings or activities.
• Discourage children and teens from gathering in other public places if school is closed.
Where can I learn more?
Several local, state and national health organizations are offering information on COVID-19:
• See related stories in this issue of The SUN.
• Visit www.PagosaSUN.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pagosa.newspaper for updates on community closures, business information and more.
• PSMC: http://pagosaspringsmedicalcenter.org/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-update/
• SJBPH: https://sjbpublichealth.org/coronavirus/
• CDPHE: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus
• CDC: www.coronavirus.gov.
• World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/covid-19.

This story was posted on March 19, 2020.