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‘Ready to meet the needs’: Rowan Medical Center makes preparations for coronavirus

SALISBURY — At Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, staff are taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously while not panicking, says Jessica Ramey, an infection prevention practitioner.

And she recommends the public do the same.

“People need to get information from reputable sources and to not panic because you don’t want people to panic,” Ramey said. “And on the other side of that, you want people following directions that are given to them: staying in, avoiding large crowds and, if you’re sick stay home. And if you’re at some sort of risk for it, call. Don’t just show up on your doctor’s doorstep.”

Both Rowan County government and health care professionals recommend people call their primary care practitioner or personal doctor to seek guidance for any symptoms. Those without doctors or with questions should call the Rowan County coronavirus information line, which is staffed by health department workers, at 980-432-1800.

For its part, the hospital has set up a mobile unit outside of its emergency department to screen and test people, made plans to shift personnel from non-essential procedures to more critical cases and drafted options if there is a surge in patients. With supplies strained for protective gear, the hospital has also needed to think more seriously about sourcing.

“We feel like we’re prepared. We’ve been working on this for quite some time and will be ready to meet the needs of the community in association with the health department and others who play a significant role for us,” said Thomas Trahey, Rowan Medical Center’s chief clinical officer.

The hospital has been certified for 268 beds, but that total counts some double-occupancy rooms, said Rowan Medical Center President Gary Blabon. Because the hospital prefers not to double-bunk patients in rooms, the actual capacity is 220, Blabon said. Normally, the number of occupied beds hovers around 160 and, while the facility has seen higher-than-usual occupancy numbers lately, the number of flu cases is declining. Any empty beds could be needed for people who become seriously ill from coronavirus.

Though there have been nationwide concerns about testing, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and some doctor’s offices in the county now have the ability to test patients for coronavirus, which has symptoms that include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those symptoms are thought to appear between two and 14 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. COVID-19 is a disease caused by a specific type of coronavirus that’s been named SARS-CoV-2.

As of Tuesday night, there had been 38 samples collected in Rowan County for COVID-19 tests, the majority of which were collected by Rowan Medical Center, said Rowan County Emergency Services Division Chief TJ Brown. A small number came from local doctors offices, which have the ability to collect samples from patients and send them to private laboratories such as LabCorp.

None of the samples have returned positive test results, but Ramey and others say they expect to see local cases as more people are tested.

Expected to operational by end of day Wednesday, hospital staff in mobile unit placed outside of the emergency department will collect samples from patients to send to private labs. The unit has capacity for three patients at a time, and Ramey said an additional screening area would be set up near the mobile unit to check symptoms and ask questions to patients. The unit is not for people with severe symptoms, who will be escorted into the emergency department, Trahey said.

Those who are tested at the mobile unit, which will be used during the busiest hospital hours, will return home with an instruction sheet until test results are ready, Trahey said. Those tested will be told whether results are positive or negative.

“Remember, there are other things people may have that are not related to COVID-19,” Trahey said. “There may be people who don’t need testing at all and just need reassurance, and they can be evaluated and sent home.”

Importantly, Ramey said, avoiding large crowds and practice social distancing, staying 6 feet away from others, doesn’t mean isolation.

“Is it OK to go out and water your lawn and talk to your neighbor in the yard? Yes,” she said. “Of course, social distancing means that we try to stay 3 to 6 feet apart … but it’s totally not lock yourself in your house and don’t come out.”

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