The number of global coronavirus cases has doubled since last week. By Wednesday afternoon, the World Health Organization had confirmed 413,467 cases and 18,433 deaths in what it now considers a pandemic.
In the United States, there have been at least 63,744 cases of the coronavirus confirmed by lab tests and 897 deaths, with COYID-19 confirmed in all 50 states, according to The New York Times. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services has reported a tenfold increase in cases—rising from from 95 cases last week to 974 cases and 12 deaths statewide on Wednesday. There are likely more unconfirmed cases, given that there are examples of community spread and limited testing capacity.
In a formal statement issued late Wednesday, Hemphill County Hospital District Administrator Christy Francis addressed the current status of COVID -19 in this county, dismissing growing rumors of the presence of the coronavirus in this community.
“To the best of our knowledge,” she said, “there has been no positive test for COVID-19 in Hemphill County at this time. Hemphill County Hospital District does have testing available and is testing those individuals who meet the appropriate criteria.”
Francis stressed the importance of reducing exposure, saying, “#StayHomeTexas cannot be overly communicated,” reminding the public of the importance of the ‘social distancing’ mandate. “While the potential for spread may seem remote,” she said, “the best way to minimize any spread is to stay home. Your health and the health of the entire community is of the utmost importance.”
Hemphill County residents were urged to follow the district’s Facebook page and CDC. gov for the latest updates and helpful information.
In a meeting held Tuesday evening, hospital board members focused their attention on the COVID-19 health threat, updating policies and procedures—particularly those involving infection control and materials management, as well as access to the district’s facilities and the availability of supply chains.
Public access to the Edward Abraham Nursing Home, Mesa View Assisted Living, and Hemphill County Hospital was restricted on March 12.
Because all of the district’s medical facilities are now unable to accomodate walkins, Canadian Family Physicians (CFP) and the Harvester Health and Wellness Clinic (HHWC) in Pampa have made adjustments by offering telemedicine services, in addition to in-person visits, for patients of those clinics.
CFP’s behavioral counseling services with Anna Needham, licensed professional counselor, are also being offered via telemedicine. Additional behavioral health services are available, as well, to those who are struggling due to feelings of isolation, fear, or anxiety as a result of COVID -19 precautionary measures.
In addition, the hospital’s laboratory department is accommodating patients who need routine bloodwork by performing lab draws under the covered driveway at the hospital’s main entrance.
Board Member Cory Pittman asked whether the hospital district had experienced any problems obtaining needed supplies.
“Right now, we can’t get the flu surgical masks,” Sappenfield said. ‘We are unable to order the gowns, but placed an order with TORCH (Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals). They ended up with a supply.”
In addition, Sappenfield said the district’s stock of N-95 masks was reinforced, particularly with smaller sizes to accommodate that need.
“We feel like we’re in a pretty good position,” she said. “Of course, if an influx comes in and we have to change between every patient, then we’re going to run out pretty quick.”
Sappenfield credited the district’s emergency preparedness group with being proactive. ‘We don’t feel panicked,” she said. “Our staff doesn’t feel like they don’t have what they need.”
Sappenfield acknowledged the rumors that were circulating around town about there being a COVID-positive patient here, and assured the board that no one had tested positive in Canadian yet. “It is taking us forever to get the tests back,” she admitted. “We sent one off Thursday, and we’re still waiting for results.”
Medical medium is a liquid or gelatinous substance containing nutrients in which microorganisms, cells, or tissues are cultivated for scientific purposes. Medium is needed to transport cells and maintain their viability until a test can be conducted.
While there are a limited number of tests available here, the district has a plentiful amount of the swabs which are used to take specimens for the test. “If we run out of medium, we’ll go ahead and swab people, and freeze the swab until we get the medium to deliver it.”
Drs. Bill Isaacs and Valerie Verbi said this week that they have also limited walk-in access to patients at the Isaacs/Verbi Clinic.
“We generally are not seeing patients,” said Dr. Isaacs. “There are some exceptions. But we canceled all of the appointments on the books and are asking our patients to call.”
Issacs said his office is consulting with patients by phone or Facetime, whenever possible. “We are calling patients, authorizing prescription refills, and doing the things that need to keep going,” he said, but added, “The less people get out and come in the clinic, the better.”
Dr. Isaacs said that his office had received 20 test kits from Quest Lab in Amarillo, but was coordinating their supply with the hos-pital and Family Physicians clinic. “We have sent all the tests to the hospital lab,” he said. “They have a total of 50 test kits available now, and will be doing any testing we think is appropriate if someone meets that criteria.”
Asked what the criteria is, Dr. Verbi explained that any patient with respiratory illness, who has a fever, who has had contact with somebody who has had the virus—either directly or indirectly—and who has traveled to areas where the virus is known to be, will likely qualify for testing. Healthcare workers are also considered a priority.
Bottom line, though, the physician can use his own judgement to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19, and to decide whether that patient should be tested. Because of the scarcity of test cases, every effort is being made to avoid testing those who don’t need it.
Dr. Verbi also said that patients exhibiting symptoms will often be tested for both flu and strep, and for COVID -19. Results from the flu/strep test can be returned in as little time as 15 minutes, while the turnaround time for the COVID test—which is sent to another lab—is five to seven days.
Both Verbi and Isaacs urged anyone over 60 to isolate as much as possible, adding that it’s a good rule for the general public, as well. “It’s almost impossible to impress that on people,” Dr. Isaacs said. “We need to shut down and just stay home, and have minimum interaction with other people.”
“If you’re sick, have a fever, are coughing... do not stay at work,” he said, “go home.”