Bedford County has, to this point, not had a confirmed case of the coronavirus.
But if or when it does, UPMC-Bedford Memorial officials say they are ready for it.
“We are open for business,” said Dale Fuller, lead administrator and chief information officer. “We do have a restricted visitor policy, but other than that we are open for business.”
“We absolutely are working around the clock with a team of professionals,” said Jennifer Nouse, clinical director of nursing and quality. “We have an excellent set of resources, and we are prepared. We are very proud of our team and of our staff.”
In areas hard-hit by the virus, media reports have depicted overwhelmed hospitals in many cases lacking proper or sufficient protection for medical professionals. But even if the outbreak hits home here, Fuller said he didn’t see that happening.
“We’re very proud of our supply chain,” he said. “We already had protocols in place for the appropriate use of PPE (personal protective equipment).”
Fuller said many of the reports of lacking protective resources have stemmed from staff members who were fearful of being infected, who wanted to use protection in “an inappropriate setting.”
“It’s not that we wouldn’t let them, it’s that the protocol doesn’t say to wear a mask in that situation,” he said.
Many people have concerns about testing procedures for the virus, and Nouse outlined the current guidelines:
• If you have mild symptoms, first call your family physician. If the physician feels it’s necessary, your case will be referred to a triage team for approval. You may be told just to self-quarantine for 14 days. “That limits the spread of infection, and also keeps you safe,” Nouse said.
“Call your family physician first,” Nouse stressed. “Please do not present to the hospital with a simple cough or mild fever.”
She explained that those who are not seriously ill risk spreading the virus to others if they have it, and also risk exposure to the virus if they don’t.
• If you are referred for a test by your family physician and the triage team, testing in our area will take place on an outpatient basis by appointment only in Altoona. Your physician will contact you with the appointment time and locations.
“They do not do walk-ins,” Fuller stressed, explaining that the tests have to be conducted under conditions that protect the public and staff. The nasopharyngeal swabs used produce droplets of moisture, and “we know how this is how the virus is spread.
“It is not a process that can be done easily,” he said.
Should a person be diagnosed with the virus, it’s not a a reason to panic, Fuller said.
“The vast number of Americans (who have the virus) are going to experience mild flu-like symptoms,” he said. “We are doing this so that the people who are at risk don’t get it.”
Nouse noted that there is much misinformation circulating, and referred people to the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health for reliable information about the virus, its spread and treatment.
On the whole, Fuller said, US hospitals have met the challenge.
“They are managing this very well up to this point,” he said.