WellSpan Health has been preparing to care for patients who have potentially contracted coronavirus for the past few weeks.
Testing tents have been set up outside of Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus that has ripped through countries across the globe. Franklin County reported its first few positive confirmations last week and earlier this week.
Healthcare workers worldwide are on the front lines of this battle, and are exposing themselves to contracting the virus themselves as they try and keep people calm and get the correct information to prevent widespread panic.
Jill Harshman, director of patient services of WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital’s Emergency Department, recently shed some light on what it’s like on the front lines, and what people can do if they feel they need to be tested.
Can you tell us about the protective gear needed for hospital staff to help prevent exposure and does WellSpan staff have the proper gear needed?
Following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proper protective gear for treating patients for suspected COVID-19 include the use of gowns, gloves, surgical masks and face shields. Each of our facilities across the health system are adequately equipped to respond to the needs of our staff and patients at this time. However, resources and capacity are important considerations, which is why we are all placing an emphasis on prevention. It’s important to remember that the best way to prevent potential spread is to adhere to the calls for social distancing and handwashing.
What is the criteria that is being followed to test patients for the virus? I’m hearing there are people who can’t get tested though they are exhibiting symptoms.
Patients who are not feeling well and are experiencing fever, shortness of breath or have a cough are encouraged to contact their primary care provider and the provider will determine if they should receive a test for COVID-19. Many factors go into this decision such as symptoms, underlying medical conditions and contact with other individuals, among others. Our goal, right now, with testing, is to test patients who meet the current criteria. We believe the more testing we do now, the better we can plan, prepare, and resource what could come. We believe informed decisions are the best decisions, and we need to base our decisions on accurate data. It is important to remember that roughly 80 percent of those that test positive for COVID-19 are able to self-isolate and treat symptoms at home.
How long do symptoms last in typical patients? And how long are they contagious for? Is it the two weeks or can it be longer?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, symptoms of the coronavirus, including cough, shortness of breath and fever, can develop between two and 14 days after exposure. Everyone is different and can exhibit symptoms of coronavirus at varying lengths. The recommendation is that people who do treat symptoms at home do so until their symptoms fully go away.
If a patient tests positive for the virus, do they need to be in the hospital or is that only for patients who could potentially become critically ill?
The vast majority (roughly 80 percent) of patients will be able to self-isolate at home as part of recovery for the coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is no proven medication for the virus to date. The best thing people can do is care for themselves at home and that means getting plenty of rest and to stay hydrated. If symptoms get worse, they should contact their primary care provider. It is important to add that while recovering at home, people should limit contact with others in their household.
What further needs do hospitals have as this continues to spread?
This situation is evolving daily, and we are closely watching what is happening in the areas of our country and internationally with a high number of patients that have tested positive for COVID-19. We are proactively working to develop plans to keep our staff and community safe.
What information is WellSpan providing to patients that they cannot treat and where are they being referred to?
We are committed to caring for the needs of each and every patient who comes to us for care. Patients who have symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to talk to their primary care provider. If you do not have a primary care doctor, WellSpan Health has set up a Coronavirus Information Hotline toll-free at (855) 851-3641. If you are concerned you or your loved one may have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19), you can call this phone line with questions daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. This line is meant to provide general information about the coronavirus related to prevention, risk, screening and instructions on when to seek care. In addition, members of the public may visit WellSpan’s website for updated information and resources at: www.WellSpan.org/Coronavirus. There, visitors
will find information including a self-assessment tool, FAQs, changes to services and visitation requirements, among other resources.
Can you describe what a day for you has been like on the job since the virus has spread? What precautions do you have to take at work and at home?
There has been an increased workload to help get prepared for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. I have encouraged my family to practice social distancing and am checking on my older family members by phone rather than in person. Staying home and self-isolating as much as possible is the best way the public can help prevent the spread of this virus.
What are the misconceptions that are still surrounding this pandemic?
I think a big misconception is that people think that they are invincible, and they won’t get sick, and if they do, it will be mild. Yes, many people do experience mild symptoms, but everyone knows someone who may not survive being sick with COVID-19, so for the sake of our older community members or our friends with other health issues, it is important to listen to the warnings and stay home. I heard someone say, ‘Don’t act to prevent yourself from getting sick. Assume you’re already sick and act to prevent spreading it to others.’ I think that is really good advice.