Local health professionals are researching options to organize a central drive-thru testing site for those in Allen County who suspect they may have COVID-19, a deadly new coronavirus that’s causing disruptions to businesses, schools and activities.
Efforts are underway to research options for such testing at the request of local physicians, Patty McGuffin, chief nursing officer for Allen County Regional Hospital, said.
Ideally, local doctors and nurses would have a site where tests could be conducted without patients entering a clinic or the hospital, keeping those patients isolated from others in an attempt to stop the spread of illness.
“The purpose is to decrease exposure to staff and other patients, and decrease the burden on the healthcare system,” McGuffin said. “We want to do our part to flatten the curve.”
Dr. Brian Neely, with the Allen County Regional Clinic and Chief of Staff at ACRH, said the goal is to include all local healthcare clinics, including the hospital’s clinics in Iola, Moran and Humboldt; the Family Physicians, and the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
Currently, testing of suspected COVID-19 cases are done separately at local physician offices and ACRH, with samples sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. If preliminary tests indicate COVID-19, the test is sent to the CDC for verification. Results may not be available for several days.
Testing supplies are still limited, McGuffin said, so only those patients who meet certain high-risk criteria will be tested for COVID-19. Manufacturers are attempting to increase testing supplies.
No cases have been confirmed in Allen County. As of Wednesday morning, 16 cases had been reported in Kansas, with one fatality, and 417 negative tests.
“It’s still early and I think we have time, but we’d like to get a testing center in place before we need it,” Neely said. “Right now, we’re still in the discussion phase.”
McGuffin said she intends to contact the SEK Multi-County Health Department to better understand how it conducts its drive-thru flu clinic each fall.
McGuffin said she is using a hospital in Denver as a good example of offering drive-thru testing for COVID-19.
“For most of these patients, symptoms are going to be treatable at home: Drink lots of fluids, rest,” McGuffin said. “The most severe patients are the ones who need to be in the emergency room.”
HEALTH CARE providers are encouraging those who feel ill to avoid entering the hospital or a clinic without first calling in order to avoid spreading the illness to other patients.
A typical waiting room at any of Iola’s clinics includes patients coping with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart and lung diseases, cancers, etc., plus unexpected events like injuries.
Though flu season is nearing an end, Neely said, seasonal respiratory illnesses are increasing. Those symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — are the same types of symptoms associated with COVID-19 and can confuse and worry patients, Neely said.
Clinic staff also are using whatever options are available to keep patients at home, such as refilling certain medications without an office visit or setting up video conferencing options.
“For years, that’s been the priority. If there’s something we can do to keep you at home, we definitely want to do that,” Neely said.
The goal is to keep patient numbers low enough so doctors, nurses and other staff aren’t overwhelmed. ACRH has a limit of 25 beds, including rooms with double occupancy.
Typically, if ACRH’s beds were filled to capacity, the hospital staff would find another facility to send patients. That may not be possible with a pandemic, where hospitals in other communities are likely to be full as well.
“That’s the whole point of social distancing now and limiting access, so if coronavirus spreads through a community it does so slowly and we’re not overwhelmed,” Neely said. “The goal is to keep it manageable.”