As the City of St. Louis announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19, a Saint Louis University student in her 20s who had recently traveled abroad, area hospitals are taking measures to increase testing for COVID-19 while protecting the health and safety existing patients and healthcare workers from the new coronavirus that is causing the worldwide pandemic.
SSM Health opened its first of five COVID-19 testing sites Tuesday, March 17 in St. Charles County and will test people who are showing symptoms of the virus.
Drive by testing is opening at several sites over the next 10 days.
The hospital system says the sites will be located throughout the region.
To be tested at SSM Health, patients must first complete a free online evaluation at www.ssmhealth.com/covid19. The evaluation begins with a series of questions regarding a patient’s symptoms and exposure. Following the visit, the patient will be connected with an SSM Health Medical Group provider to review a care plan if needed. If testing is recommended, patients will be sent to the nearest SSM Health testing facility, where clinicians can collect specimens to be sent to a lab. There will be a cost for COVID-19 testing at SSM Health; it’s unknown if commercial insurance or government funding will cover any of the cost.
Exact locations of the sites will not be released, and testing will only be done on those patients who have been referred by either an SSM Health Virtual Visit or an SSM Health physician.
“The move demonstrates SSM Health’s commitment to ensuring everyone has access to high-quality affordable health care,” a spokesperson said. “We are working with regional health authorities as well as the Centers for Disease Control to actively monitor the situation and ensure we have the most up-to-date information.”
About two weeks ago, Mercy St. Louis hospital tested the first confirmed COVID-19 patient in the state. Since then, among 207 cases tested as of March 16 by the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory and at the Centers for Disease Control, there are two positive cases in St. Louis County, one in the City of St. Louis, three positive cases in Greene County, one in Henry County and one test is pending. COVID-19 is a reportable disease to state and federal officials, regardless of whether the testing is done by the state or commercial labs.
Mercy mobile testing
Mercy St. Louis Hospital set up a mobile COVID-19 testing station on March 14 on the grounds of Mercy Virtual Care, located at 15740 South Outer 40 Road in Chesterfield. While they persons stay in their vehicles, nurses wearing protective gear swab pre-screened patients who may be infected with the new coronavirus. Mercy opened its first drive-through novel coronavirus (COVID-19) test collection site in an effort to create more widely available testing resources in its communities.
Mercy also plans to open additional test collection sites across Mercy’s four states.
“This drive-through test collection site will prevent unnecessary exposure to our patients and caregivers in our hospitals and clinics,” said Donn Sorensen, Mercy’s executive vice president of operations who is leading COVID-19 response across Mercy. “By directing at-risk people to this site, Mercy will limit the traffic to our hospitals and clinics. The safety of our patients, visitors and co-workers is of the utmost importance.”
Patients in St. Louis are required to call Mercy’s clinical support line at 314-251-0500 to be screened, and if appropriate, proceed to the test collection site.
Mercy reminds that while COVID-19 is spread from person to person, more than 80 percent of the patients who develop it will only become mildly ill. The concern is for patients with underlying medical conditions and the elderly, who are more likely to need hospital-level supportive care.
Another important point – Mercy says people with COVID-19 do not have a runny nose or nasal congestion. Symptoms to be aware of include:
- 100.4 fever or higher - 90% will have fever.
- Dry cough - 70% will have a dry cough.
- Shortness of breath – for those who become more acutely ill.
- Hospital visitation changes
- To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mercy is limiting visits to one visitor per patient.
Hospital visit restrictions are now in place until further notice at all SSM Health hospitals in St. Louis to keep patients, visitors and employees safe during this outbreak. SSM Health states each patient will be allowed only two visitors at any given time. “Given SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital’s large number of semi-private rooms,” it is considering limiting visits to one patient later this week. “In addition, no children under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit any patient, including siblings.”
All visitors will be asked to follow its hand hygiene policies and will be asked to wash their hands prior to and after any visit. They may also be asked to wear a mask or gown in some situations.
BJC Healthcare is also implementing a limited visitor policy during the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC senior vice president and chief clinical officer, said, “We appreciate the understanding and support of hospital visitors during these extraordinary times, as we make every effort to protect the health and safety of our patients, team members and visitors.” The key changes at BJC facilities include the following:
No visits from anyone who is experiencing signs of illness until they return to health;
One visitor at a time for each patient in inpatient care units, emergency departments, intensive care units, outpatient surgery and procedure areas, medical offices and clinics;
Two visitors at a time are permitted in obstetrics and pediatrics; and
No visitors under the age of 16, including siblings.
Additionally, all BJC visitors will be asked screening questions and visitors are urged to follow hand hygiene and any other protection that is needed for the patient. BJC says keep in mind that additional restrictions may apply in certain high-risk areas such as cancer, transplant and where patients have compromised immune systems.
Illinois, Missouri report first COVID-19 deaths
On Tuesday, March 17, Illinois announced its first death from the coronavirus pandemic, a Chicago resident in her 60s who tested positive for disease COVID-19 earlier this month who had contact with a known COVID-19 case.
“I am deeply saddened by the news that we've dreaded since the earliest days of this outbreak: the first COVID-19 related death in Illinois,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “There are going to be moments during the next few weeks and months when this burden feels like it is more than we can bear – this is one of those moments, but we will get through this together.”
Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced the first death related to COVID-19 in Missouri on Wednesday, March 18 “with a heavy heart.” The patient from Boone County had tested positive for a travel-related COVID-19 case.
In southern Illinois, two St. Clair County women tested positive for COVID-19, as two people in Clinton County. Illinois reports 160 cases of COVID-19 in 15 counties, from ages 9 to 91.
In addition, the Illinois Department of Public Health has put together updated restrictions at nursing homes, after 22 patients and four staff at a long term care facility tested positive for COVID-19.
“In addition to the death we are sad to report today, we are also reporting an outbreak of COVID-19 in a long-term care facility,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Residents in nursing homes are our most vulnerable population and we are doing everything we can to protect them. We may see cases in other long-term care facilities, which is why it is so important that we all do our part to reduce possible exposure in the community to those who go in and out of these facilities as they provide care to resident.”
Updated guidance for Illinois nursing homes include:
Restricting all visitation except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life residents;
Restricting all volunteers and non-essential health care personnel (e.g., barbers);
Canceling all group activities and communal dining;
Implementing active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms.