Officials at Memorial Hospital in North Conway have been closely watching the progress of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, since early January. While this is a new virus and has caused at more than 3,000 deaths globally, Memorial Hospital President Art Mathisen says the hospital is prepared.
“We’ve been working closely with the New Hampshire Department of Health, the New Hampshire Hospital Association, and our partners in the MaineHealth system to learn as much as we can about how this virus is transmitted and what steps we need to take to diagnose and care for patients who test positive.”
The initial outbreak in China has now spread to almost 80 countries, including the United States. Several individuals in New Hampshire have been tested and the first presumptive case was announced by New Hampshire health officials this early week. Another presumptive case was announced on Tuesday.
This novel, or “new”, Coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that includes the strains MERS and SARS. All are spread primarily through human contact by coughing or sneezing, or by coming in contact with a surface, such as a door knob or counter top.
Mathisen adds “The Centers for Disease Control and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services are doing a good job of tracking the illness throughout the country and the state and keeping us informed.” He also points out that many individuals have inquired and have gone through the coronavirus screening at the hospital.
Erika Roy, RN, is clinical manager of Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department. She says the COVID-19 screening is a series of questions about risk factors. “Staff are trained to screen for COVID-19 at registration with a series of questions. ‘Do you have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath? Have you travelled outside of the US in past 21 day including China, Japan, Iran, South Korea, or Italy? Have you been in contact with anyone sick with Covid-19 in past 14 days?’ If the patient screening leads to possible Coronavirus exposure, the nurse then follows specific protocols for Covid-19.” The patient is immediately masked and isolated. The hospital then consults with the state department of health which may ask for additional assessments, ask for an initial test, or may refer the case to the Centers for Disease Control for a definitive test. “Only the CDC can confirm the presence of COVID-19,” Roy says.
As the virus spreads and the situation changes, one challenge is ensuring there are the necessary supplies, especially personal protective equipment (PPE), needed to care for patients and keep healthcare worker safe. This is likely due to multiple reasons such as increased demand from both the public and health care organization and manufacturing challenges with the outbreak in China. “We are closely monitoring this situation and collaborating with local and state agencies to ensure we have what we need. We also have the distinct advantage of MaineHealth as a large organization being able to leverage and work with our vendors to try to limit disruptions in distribution.” says Will Owen, RN, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
In an email to hospital staff on Monday, Mathisen reviewed some of the activities the hospital is engaged in to prepare for the virus. These include regular updates through webinars with national, state, and local agencies for the latest news on the science behind the virus and suggested responses from health care providers. He also reminded employees to spread the word that the best defense against the family of coronaviruses is basic hygiene. “Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, clean surfaces with disinfectant wipes, and stay home if you’re sick.”