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Coronavirus testing starts as Delaware hospitals urge restraint

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Caregivers and ChristianaCare President and CEO Janice Nevin  smile before starting on drive-thu COVID-19 tests on Friday. | DBT PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIANACARE

One day into Delaware’s state of emergency over concerns of the coronavirus, hospitals across the state are stepping up proactive measures to try slowing the spread of the virus.

ChristianaCare, the largest health care provider in the state, offered limited free COVID-19 drive-thru tests on Friday after the first positive cases were found in northern Delaware. By the end of the day, it collected 536 samples from patients who came from across the region. Testing will be done at private labs, with results expected in a few days. The goal was to head off the spread of the virus, and to relieve pressure on the emergency rooms during a situation that is rapidly changing, officials said.

“I am so proud of our exceptional caregivers, who stepped up to put this event together to meet the needs of both our caregivers and our community,” ChristianaCare CEO and President Janice Nevin said in a statement. “It was a shining example of how we serve together, anticipate the needs of our community, and help with compassion and generosity.”

Beebe Healthcare announced Friday evening that it will also hold a screening event for the community Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The screening is for those showing symptoms, have been exposed to the virus, or have traveled outside the country in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington is also considering doing the same next week, although health officials note that the virus has a low mortality rate among children.

Nemours officials encourage patients’ parents to use their telemedicine option before coming to the hospital. There’s been some discussion on reducing the cost for the service, officials told the Delaware Business Times.

“We want to focus our efforts on where there’s the most need and limit the risk,” said Dr. Jay Greenspan, CEO for Nemours Delaware Valley Operations. “Cost should not be an obstacle.”

Southern Delaware hospitals, including Beebe Medical Center and Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, are restricting visitation to slow the spread of the virus. There has not been a positive test yet south of the C&D Canal, but Peninsula Regional Health System Chief Health Officer Charles Silvia Jr. said it’s only a matter of time.

Multiple health officials urge people who don’t have symptoms to not get tested. At PRHS facilities, like Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, only patients that meet a strict set of guidelines are swabbed for testing.

“A sneeze and a cough is not enough, and if we were to test those, we would be looking at an overwhelming number of tests,” Silvia told DBT. “At that point, we would recommend staying home and wait, or call their doctors.”

Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough or shortness of breath, and can appear within two to 14 days.

Up at Nemours, Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr. Karen Ravin said that a handful of patients at risk of exposure had been tested, as had some associates who had traveled. None have been found to be positive in locally administered tests, she added.

“The majority of kids so far have mild symptoms, and it’s a small number with severe symptoms,” she told DBT. “We recommend people stay at home and call primary caregivers to discuss concerns.

Meanwhile, PRHS is in the early stages of developing its own test for southern Delaware and Maryland patients, but Silvia cautioned that it could take weeks to fully develop.

“The idea is our patients want to know right away, and we’re not prepared to do that,” he said. “But eventually driving 20 miles [to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury] would be a lot quicker than sending them out.”

Several Delaware hospitals have issued visitor restrictions or other measures to limit exposure. Beebe Healthcare officials are asking patients to specify two essential adult visitors who can visit them while they are being treated at the Lewes campus.

Beebe patient visitors will be screened upon entry and can be barred if deemed a risk. Other visitors aside those listed by patients, are barred from any communal area, including waiting rooms, cafeterias or hallways.

In Beebe’s outpatient areas, only one of the two-prescreened visitors will be able to accompany a patient to a treatment area.

Marcy Jack, Beebe vice president and chief quality and safety officer, is confident that the Lewes hospital is prepared. Infection prevention professionals, including nurses and infectious disease physicians, are working closely with the state.

“Emergency preparedness is something that Beebe Healthcare practices frequently, not just at the time an event occurs or when there is heightened awareness of a potential threat,” Jack said in a statement to DBT.

Beebe hospital is confident it has “the necessary equipment and environment” to treat patients and prevent the spread of an infectious disease, she added.

Bayhealth Hospital announced late Thursday that it will restrict visiting hours and limit one visitor per patient at its Kent and Sussex Campuses. Only one person will be allowed to accompany a patient in the lobby. Exceptions will be made on a case by case basis for end of life situations, laboring mothers, neonatal intensive care units, pediatric patients, and for those serving as caregivers for patients and undergoing same-day surgeries and procedures. No one under 18 is permitted.

Visitors at Bayhealth must also check in and be screened. Anyone who has symptoms will not be allowed to visit patients.

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford also announced new restrictions on Friday, limiting one visitor per paitent and no one under 18 allowed unless they are the parents of hospitalized children. Visitors must also check in and may be screened.

Nemours has barred some entrances to ensure that all visitors are screened upon entry, and Greenspan said that they hold daily meetings where measures are rapidly re-evaluated. For example, it might be a requirement that visitors have their temperature taken in the future.

There are real concerns about staffing levels to meet a potential surge in patients, particularly in rural communities. As more people get anxious to be tested — without any signs of symptoms — there’s less resources to meet a growing need, Silvia said.

“It’s in human nature to be fearful. But we do have some concerns about crowds, like we would if someone were to have a heart attack or stroke. A crowd that does not need to be here could bog us down,” Silvia added. “We need people to understand what the symptoms are and not to panic.”

Greenspan said at the moment Nemours has enough staff on deck and continues with elective surgeries as scheduled. The health care provider aims to be more proactive, sending associates home who even look sick.

“It’s a big concern and we have to keep healthy, because we can’t afford a lot of people to be out sick at this point,” he said.

People with questions or if they feel they may have been exposed to COVID-19 can contact Delaware’s Division of Public Health Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899 or email [email protected].

By Katie Tabeling

[email protected]

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