As the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads quickly, new information has emerged and new guidelines have come out, making the response from health care providers change, as well.
“This has evolved so rapidly that information that was shared and presented one day changes in 48 hours,” Dan Bjerknes, president of CHI St. Alexius Health in Williston, said.
That means leaders at CHI have had to be in constant contact with other community leaders, as well as the North Dakota Department of Health and the Upper Missouri Health District Unit. The NDDoH in particular has been a source that sends out information that leaders from CHI then share with staff and the public.
“That’s really who we’ve leaned on for our information,” about new guidelines from the state or other changes, Bjerknes said.
The changes have also led to some confusion for the public. CHI started developing a screening process for people who called concerned they might have COVID-19. The hospital now has its 24/7 nurse line helping to answer questions and point patients to what they need, whether that’s medical care or just information.
The basics of screening haven’t been what causes the most confusion, though.
In the first seven days from (when Gov. Doug Burgum and President Donald Trump both made emergency declarations), the guidance for screening stayed relatively the same, but the guidance for testing changed,” Bjerknes said.
Part of the problem is supplies of tests have been limited nationwide. That’s led the NDDoH to set testing recommendations.
Patients who think they might have COVID-19 should have fever and another symptom before they’re tested, Bjerknes said.
That has led some people to think they weren’t being tested when they should have been. Bjerknes said really, all that meant is they didn’t meet the criteria to be tested.
“That’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We’re following the CDC guidelines.”
The message that people should call and get screened before going to the doctor and asking for a test is getting out, though, he said.
“We even took 40 calls on the weekend,” he said.
Dr. Wayne Anderson, a surgeon and Chief Medical Officer for the hospital, said if people think they’re sick enough to call 911 and think they might have COVID-19, they should make that clear when they call. Otherwise after they’re taken to the hospital, the ambulance might need to be taken out of service to be thoroughly disinfected.
“We’re not telling people not to call 911,” Anderson said. “We would like them to tell people they might have coronavirus.”
Dubi Cummings, marketing director for CHI St. Alexius, said one of the roles the hospital has is to make sure local public health officials and the North Dakota Department of Health have the latest information.
“We do what we can to share and support them,” she said.
The response to the pandemic locally has included Williams County Emergency Management as well as law enforcement and firefighters.
“All of us are coming together, communication about our more specific and broad based needs,” Bjerknes said. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the collegiality of this response.”