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Local health officials continue to respond and adapt their efforts to keep the community safe as the new coronavirus threatens the area.
Citizens Memorial Hospital began offering drive-thru testing for COVID-19 with a doctor’s order on Friday, March 20.
CMH’s Director of Marketing Tamera Heitz-Peek said medical staff completed 21 tests during the first three days of testing.
She said four tests were completed on Friday, nine on Saturday and eight on Monday.
It takes around six days to get results, Heitz-Peek said.
A CMH news release said patients are advised to stay home to await test results.
Overall, across CMH’s facilities, 198 tests have been completed with 54 results received, all of which have been negative, as of Monday, March 23, she said.
Carol Bookhout with the Polk County Health Center said 86 tests have been completed in Polk County. As of Tuesday morning, there were 28 negative results.
Heitz-Peek said the swabs CMH takes are sent to both state and private labs for testing.
While she didn’t give an exact number of tests on hand, Heitz-Peek said CMH has “an adequate supply.”
According to the release, patients with symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, should complete a CMH Virtual Visit or call a CMH clinic for screening to obtain an order for the drive-thru test site.
Heitz-Peek said doctors will gather information from patients, including any travel or contact with anyone who has traveled, any contact with anyone with confirmed COVID-19 in the last 14 days, and symptoms, including fever greater than 100, difficulty breathing and a cough.
Testing qualifications vary between private and state lab testing, Joylyn Smith, CMH’s infection prevention coordinator, said.
For state lab testing, the patient must meet Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services criteria as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
On Monday, DHSS updated criteria and removed travel restrictions to make state testing more widely available, Smith said.
Private testing is at the discretion of the provider.
She said providers have discouraged testing of asymptomatic patients.
“In March, we’ve had 51 virtual visit and telemedicine appointments,” Heitz-Peek said. “Expanded training went to all physicians on Friday, and we expect to see these numbers grow substantially over the next week.”
While Polk County has yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, Heitz-Peek said the hospital is ready for an outbreak if it comes.
“We have options to add patient beds in the hospital and have additional plans outlined should we need additional space,” she said.
Heitz-Peek did not provide specific numbers for beds currently available or for beds that would be available with additional space.
While she also did not provide specific details on plans for additional capacity, Gov. Mike Parson said during his daily briefing Monday, March 23, the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop hospital overflow plans.
Heitz-Peek said CMH currently has beds and ventilators in place “but could use more ventilators if we see a surge.”
While CMH focuses on its patients, it must also work to keep its staff safe.
Heitz-Peek said personal protective equipment “is a concern because there is a national shortage.”
She said the hospital is reaching out to suppliers and “using all avenues possible to access additional equipment.”
“Keeping our employees safe is our highest priority,” she said. “We are continuing our effort in sourcing additional PPE from other industries.”
While current health care providers haven’t seen something like the coronavirus outbreak in their lifetime, they prepare for the day it may come.
“Citizens Memorial has an emergency preparedness plan and regularly practices for situations such as pandemics,” Heitz-Peek said. “All of our employees have worked tirelessly to keep our patients, residents, their families and the communities we serve safe.”
She said CMH’s “preparation and response has been exceptional.”
The community’s support has made an impact on CMH and its staff, she said.
“The response has been amazing,” Heitz-Peek said. “We’ve had many offers for food and snacks, and area restaurants have offered to deliver meals.”
She said the hospital has also received help from other community organizations, collaborating with both the Polk County Health Department and Southwest Baptist University.