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By SARA ARTHURS

STAFF WRITER

If you call wanting testing for the new coronavirus, what happens next? How are our hospitals preparing for a surge of patients? And how can we — the community — help?

Scott Malaney, Blanchard Valley Health System president and CEO, and Dr. Bill Kose, vice president of special projects, responded to these and other questions from the public at an event livestreamed on Facebook Thursday evening.

Kose said this virus differs from other illnesses, like the flu, because “we have no immunity.” And many people may be asymptomatic carriers — capable of spreading the virus to others, but not aware they have it because they do not feel sick. And the rate at which the virus spreads is growing exponentially. He said this is why staying home is so important — because if you aren’t near anyone else, the virus cannot spread from person to person.

Seniors and people with illnesses like diabetes or lung conditions are particularly at risk. Cancer patients’ immune systems are not as good, Kose said; so they do need to be especially careful about quarantining themselves from others.

Kose said that, although COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, patients can have a wide range of symptoms, and one local case started out with nausea and diarrhea.

He said hospital leaders are preparing for an anticipated surge of patients. He said 80 percent of people who get this virus do not need to be hospitalized, but 20 percent do, and some of those must be on a ventilator. Blanchard Valley Hospital has 150 beds but could double that by putting two beds in each room, he said. They are also looking at other areas and facilities.

He pointed out that it isn’t just the beds and ventilators that need to be considered in planning: “You’ve got to have staff.”

Blanchard Valley has 26 ventilators. Kose said they also have ventilators designed for one-time use, and they are also exploring the idea of using a ventilator for more than one patient.

Kose said the testing call center lines are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The phones are answered by nurses, who start by asking questions about your symptoms. If they determine you need to be tested, you make an appointment to come to what has become known as “tent city where testing happens.” Kose said “if we had plenty of testing” available, they might test everyone who called, but they don’t and they can’t.

Tests are sent out to other labs, but the health system is evaluating whether it can process the tests internally. It took several days to get test results earlier, but now it takes about 36 to 48 hours.

Malaney said as we look back, as a country, we will recognize that having done such limited testing has been a hindrance.

Kose and Malaney noted that the idea of “flattening the curve” — so not so many people are infected at once, which means less strain on hospital resources — also means a longer overall period of people getting sick.

Kose said it’s believed that those who recover from the virus are immune. He said a person probably is no longer contagious three days after they’ve had no fever or other symptoms.

He said it would be beneficial if someone who has had the virus is immune, particularly for health care workers.

“Because we’re going to get this,” he said. So, they will need to know, if someone has been sick and recovered, when it would be safe for them to return to work.

Malaney said “there’s no doubt” that doctors and scientists will develop effective medications and a vaccine at some point.

Kose said to protect staff, the hospital is making sure everyone is well trained in using personal protective equipment. And those employees who can work from home are doing so, he said.

Malaney said it’s “beyond gratifying” how the community keeps asking how they can help. He said his 93-year-old mother has been telling him how she is working with a group of volunteers sewing masks — all of them sitting six feet apart from each other.

Blanchard Valley is requesting donations of supplies like masks, face shields, goggles, hand sanitizer or thermometers. They have also heard from people wishing to donate money, and an emergency response fund has been established. To donate supplies or funds, call Marie Swaisgood at 419-348-2118.

Malaney said they would be willing to do another livestream event if people found it valuable. “This is all about information” and the more you know, “the less there is to be afraid of.”

The interest seemed to be there. Facebook reported that the video had about 3,500 views.

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