SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — As the first documented case of the coronavirus arose this week in a South County Health outpatient location, officials and medical staff are preparing for possibly more positive tests and cases in the community.
South County Health in a statement said that a patient last week went to the Wakefield South County Medical Group with flu-like symptoms and the state Department of Health later confirmed the virus after the unidentified patient’s symptoms worsened.
Brett Davey, South County Health spokesman, said that the patient was never in the hospital at any time and that the hospital has not had any confirmed positive cases inside the hospital.
The person, whose hometown was also not identified, has no history of international travel or interaction with anyone diagnosed with the coronavirus also known as COVID-19, he said.
The DOH has not yet successfully traced where this individual contracted the virus. Community transmission makes tracing more difficult, the hospital noted in the statement, and issued a general advisory that this “means it is increasingly critical that people follow suggested guidelines to reduce social interaction and person-to-person contact whenever possible.”
Aaron S. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of South County Health, said, “The most important thing the community can do is follow the recommended steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow the CDC recommendations for hand and overall hygiene.”
He also advised people to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary and to follow the critical advice related to social distancing.
“If you are healthy, it is not only your own well-being you need to consider. You could potentially transmit the virus to someone who is elderly, sick or immuno-compromised. Anything you can do by phone or over the internet, do so,” he said.
As this first case was developing, The Independent asked some prevention and preparation questions to South County Health officials.
What is South County Hospital doing to prepare for testing of people for the virus, will they be allowed in the hospital or will the hospital do the testing externally, perhaps in tents on the grounds?
Brett Davey, South County Health spokesman: We are working with the Department of Health and the state laboratories to coordinate care of patients who meet the criteria for testing. We currently only collect specimens in the Emergency Department for patients who meet hospital level of care and testing criteria.”
Those specimens are then submitted to the state laboratory. All of our protocols are being done in coordination with the Department of Health and other health systems in Rhode Island.”
Is the hospital curtailing any kinds of services at the moment?
Brett Davey, South County Health spokesman: We have closed some services like our Cardio Rehabilitation Gym and canceled groups like our support and wellness classes. All services absolutely integral to providing patient care remain open. We continue to evaluate the availability of our services on a daily basis.
What is the hospital’s current effort regarding people coming in to the hospital and who could have the virus? Restrictions on visiting hours?
Lee Ann Quinn RN, BS, CIC, director of infection prevention: We currently have a “no visitor” policy in place. There are exceptions to this policy including in our Women and Newborn Care Unit, which will allow for one birthing partner to accompany expectant mothers. Inside the Emergency Department, patients can be accompanied by one adult if a caretaker is deemed necessary.
Hospital patients and caretakers – with the exception of those coming to our Emergency Department – must come through our main entrance. A nurse is stationed there to screen everyone for COVID-19 following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When appropriate, staff is wearing masks and other personal protective equipment. Again, this is guided by recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We know the lack of visitors can be difficult for patients and their loved ones. Social support is important for the well-being and healing of patients.
To assist with this, our patient care team has made iPads available for patients so they can FaceTime their loved ones. Our staff is talking with patients as often as they can to provide meaningful interaction when possible.
How well prepared is the hospital’s intensive care unit for handling serious cases and does it have enough respirators and how many serious cases can it handle before those cases need to be taken elsewhere?
Stephanie Parente, MSN, RN, CIC, clinical leader of infection prevention: We have been compiling a daily inventory of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment, along with the availability of our single-patient negative pressure rooms. This information is shared internally and with state officials and other hospitals in Rhode Island. This level of coordination is critical.
Our negative pressure isolation rooms are not only located in the ICU and ED. There are several others located in units throughout our hospital that are ready to serve patients if needed. On a daily basis, our materials management team is working to obtain needed supplies.
What is the game plan if doctors and staff get sick? Will there need to be a reduction in service? We already see two cases of doctors critically ill in other states who are treating infected individuals.
Lisa Rameaka, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Medical Affairs: The health and safety of all our health care workers is a top priority. They are delivering care at an incredibly high level and working very hard. South County Health is following all safety guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the state Department of Health to ensure the safety of our team. The potential exists that we may have to reduce services. It is something we assess every day during this rapidly evolving situation.
In addition, hospital officials also advised that unless it’s a medical emergency, people should not go to the hospital unless they have a scheduled appointment, are an approved caretaker, or have already reached out to their medical provider.