Local hospitals prepare for COVID-19

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Paramedic, Judson Sconce, takes his shift to help screen individuals that are visiting the hospital, clinic or pharmacy at Fisher County Hospital.

Although local hospital districts began initiating protocols last week, as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the state and into rural areas, healthcare professionals say it is more important now than ever before to protect public health and safety.

“It seems like we’re doing twenty things at once with COVID,” said Stonewall Memorial Hospital CEO Billie Carter, as hospitals began initiating protocols after President Trump asked all hospitals to activate emergency preparedness plans almost two weeks ago. Since then, medical professionals and hospital staff has been preparing to combat the inevitable spread of the coronavirus.

The first positive case was discovered in Lubbock last week — now at 12 confirmed cases — and the City of San Angelo reported a second positive case of COVID-19 in Tom Green County on Wednesday. The City of Abilene said there were 43 additional tests conducted on Tuesday, 172 total tests — 62 negative results and 0 positives — with 110 still pending.

Officials said that although there are currently no positive cases in Fisher or Stonewall counties, it is all the more reason to be cautious and maintain good health practices. “Just because we may not have a confirmed positive case, doesn't mean we don't have positive cases within the county,” said Fisher County Hospital CEO Leanne Martinez. “The virus could already be here, so we need to be doing what we should be doing.”

For hospital employees, this means being screened for elevated temperatures at the beginning and end of each shift. Patients visiting hospitals and clinics are also undergoing screening procedures, and changes have been put in place to provide better separation between patients.

“We also have a stricter plan in place should we start seeing an increasing amount of sick,” said Martinez. “Right now, the volume is just not there to do this, but when it does, we have a plan.”

Officials at local hospital districts learned a lot from the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when hospitals set up makeshift flu clinics with separate entrance and exits. Martinez said Fisher County already had protocols in place and areas designated to initiate those protocols should the situation dictate the need.

Carter said Stonewall Memorial had similar protocols in place, as the district was prepared to utilize the former wellness center as a temporary COVID Clinic if patient volume increases. Officials said patients with more serious symptoms would receive treatment like any other patient suffering from a severe respiratory illness, with swift intubation and transportation to a facility to receive a higher level of care.

“Normally, in a healthy adult, it will mean sending them home to recover and self-quarantine. Plenty of fluids, vitamin C, and rest,” said Carter.

For now, following precautions such as social distancing, proper handwashing, and staying home as much as possible will be the best thing people do during the next few crucial weeks. For anyone who thinks they might be sick, please refer to the CDC self-checker found on its website at cdc.gov

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