MALONE — Franklin County so far remains without a confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but officials at the Alice Hyde Medical Center are gearing up for the disease to appear in the area — and hoping the numbers will not overwhelm them.
Hospital officials are drawing up a plan that would create “cohort” areas in both the emergency room and inpatient room areas to separate people suspected of having the virus from other patients in the facility, Dr. Todd Whitman, assistant chief medical officer for Alice Hyde and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, said Friday. Alice Hyde and CVPH are both members of the University of Vermont Health Network.
As many as 70% of those ages 65 and older diagnosed with the virus nationwide will require hospitalization, with 10% to 30% of them requiring intensive care, Whitman said, citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re going to have a surge of patients at some point,” Whitman said.
That surge is expected even though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday ordered people other than those in essential jobs — such as emergency responders and health care workers — to remain in their homes except in cases of real emergency. The order is effective Sunday evening.
Whitman said one of hospital officials’ biggest fears is that they will be overwhelmed by the number of cases coming through their doors. Those officials are hoping the spread of the virus can be contained or even reduced and that new cases come in slowly rather than in a wave, he said.
At the moment, people who visit the emergency room with symptoms of the virus are being screened but not tested unless their symptoms appear so severe they are slated to be admitted to the hospital, Whitman said. Those criteria also apply to patients already in the hospital and health care workers, who are screened when they arrive at work, he said.
“For now, we’re pretty limited in the number we can test,” Whitman said, noting that all test swabs must be submitted to the state Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center lab. UVM Health Network officials are working to obtain kits so that the test can be administered locally at either CVPH or the University of Vermont Medical Center, he added.
Medical professionals are also concerned that one infected health care worker could transmit the disease to their colleagues before they can be diagnosed, leading to a cascade that would make it difficult or even impossible for the health care facility to continue to operate, he said.
Hospital officials are also working with government leaders on a plan to deal with an outbreak of the disease among inmates at the local state prisons.
To help keep the public informed and potentially reduce the number of people showing up at the hospital, Alice Hyde on Friday launched a call center to provide information about the virus, AHMC policies and procedures during the outbreak, and home health management. The call center, which is available Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by calling 518-481-2700, cannot tell people where they can be tested, said Alice Hyde spokesman Phillip Rau.
Franklin County implemented a call center earlier this week to take questions about the virus. Its number is 518-481-1111.
The best advice Whitman said he can give to most people is to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC:
n Using soap and water, wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds each time you wash — especially after using the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
n Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
n Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
n Stay home when you are sick.
n Cover your coughs and sneezes. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Remember to wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
n Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
“I really can’t reiterate strongly enough how important those things area,” Whitman said.
“We aren’t closed for business,” Whitman said, but people should come to the hospital only if they are sick — and after speaking to their primary care provider.