Coronavirus: Here’s how local health care systems report possible cases; area stores out of masks, sanitizers

As local health care systems wait for new COVID-19 test kits from the CDC, health care professionals are protecting themselves with a limited supply of masks. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Pixabay)

As the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, continues to cause international concern, local health officials are also working around the clock to monitor the situation.

But there seems to be some confusion in the general public about whether or not local hospitals have been reporting possible cases. 

Dale Gauding, a spokesman for Sentara Healthcare, wrote in an email this week that the organization had been fielding rumors from about “confirmed” cases in their hospitals.

Gauding said it was important to note that individual hospitals do not report on cases but rather the Virginia Department of Health will notify the public if a particular region is impacted by the virus.

According to data from VDH, there have been two negative tests of the virus in the state’s eastern region as of Tuesday. Reports show there are no confirmed cases.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which was first identified during an outbreak investigation in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. Risk of infection is dependent on exposure. Close contacts of people who are infected are at greater risk of exposure.

Virginia currently has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, and state officials are continuously monitoring the virus worldwide.

Larry Hill, public information officer for the eastern region of Virginia for the VDH, said the department reports are based on region and not individual hospitals in order to protect patient confidentiality.

“It’s a matter of being identified and health care [systems] have to be careful,” Hill said.

The VDH continuously updates their website every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. with any cases, pending tests or confirmed negative results. Hill added that if something significant were to change, then the website would be updated between those times as well.

While there are no confirmed cases, testing for COVID-19 is still very limited as health care systems wait for new test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recalled the original kits in February because of a problem with one ingredient in the kits, according to a report from NPR.

Representatives from the CDC did not immediately respond for comment.

In the meantime, Hill said hospitals have protocols in place for patients that exhibit symptoms of the virus.

Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside Health System, said if a patient comes into one of Riverside’s facilities and exhibits symptoms of the virus, then physicians have a sheet of questions from the CDC regarding travel history that help determine if they’re at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Once they’ve collected information on the patient, the health care center will contact VDH and go through another series of questions with the patient. Then the hospital will determine whether or not they should be tested for the virus.

Currently without the kits, physicians take specimen samples from areas such as the nose and throat as they would with any potential illness. The specimens are are sent to VDH who then sends them to the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services to be tested.

Glagola said he wasn’t sure how long testing takes but patients have the option to either remain hospitalized if needed or they can put themselves on a self-quarantine.

He said many facilities have had patients who don’t exhibit any symptoms request to be tested for the virus. Since there is not a test readily available, any testing that is done is only for patients that have the travel history and symptoms consistent with the virus.

Staff at Riverside facilities have formed a task force to decide the best precautions and measures to take in preparation for a potential COVID-19 patient, he said. 

For example, in the past Riverside facilities have featured flu stations at various entrances that provided patients with items such as hand sanitizers and masks. Recently facilities have chosen to move the masks behind staff desks because people were taking boxes and handfuls at a time.

Glagola said that could change again as staff continuously consider how to remain well-stocked on necessary supplies and maintain the best level of care for patients.

Masks to prevent the spread of disease have become a hot topic in the public lately as the U.S. Surgeon General tweeted on Saturday requesting that the public stop buying masks because it limited the supply for health care providers.

RELATED STORY: Five things you need to know: Coronavirus

While there are no cases of the COVID-19 in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula, some stores have noticed an uptick in face masks and hand sanitizer purchases, with some stores running out of supplies.

Terry Deaver, owner and president of Ace Peninsula Hardware, said all six of his stores are all out of face masks ––– they’re been out for several weeks.

“We’ve sold every mask we can get our hands on,” Deaver said. “Ace Hardware’s warehouse is completely out of them.”

Deaver owns six stores on the Peninsula, two stores in Hampton, one in Newport News, one in Grafton, one in Williamsburg and another in James City County.”

The stores are all out of hand sanitizers, too.

“That’s not really a big seller for us anyway,” he added. “We plan to get some in as soon as later in the week.”

Deaver noted the stores keep anywhere from 12 to 18 masks in the store as well as respirators and dust masks, typically used for sanding or working outside to cut grass.

“A gentleman came in the store the other day and got mad we didn’t have them,” he said of the face masks, comparing the public’s reaction to the coronavirus to that of an incoming hurricane or snow storm. “I’ve been here 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

RELATED STORY: Here’s a Q&A with a virologist about coronavirus

Another store out of masks? The Lowe’s Home Improvement store, 801 E Rochambeau Drive, in York County is another store that are out of masks.

“We’ve sold out of the masks,” said Tommy Massey, who works as a cashier. “And we sold out of hand sanitizer.”

WYDaily reached out to The Home Depot, 6700 Mooretown Road, and the assistant manager referred a reporter to the corporate office — a representative was not immediately available for comment.

Associates at the Walmart Supercenter, 731 E Rochambeau Drive, were not immediately available for comment and the manager from the CVS Pharmacy, 7529 Richmond Road, declined to comment.

State response

Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday said state officials are executing longstanding public health plans in response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

“The Commonwealth is taking this public health issue seriously, and we have a plan in place to respond to COVID-19,” Northam said.

“The Virginia Department of Health has some of the country’s leading public health experts on its team, with deep experience guiding public health emergency responses, and I have great confidence in their ability to guide Virginia in this situation.”

Virginia’s public health and safety experts established an Incident Management Team in January, shortly after scientists first identified the virus in Asia. The team of experts from across state government is leading the Commonwealth’s planning and response. This team is in regular and close communication with government and private sector partners.

As of this week, potential cases of COVID-19 will be tested at Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, rather than being tested at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. Virginia-based testing is expected to generate results within a few hours, allowing for faster responses.

Although COVID-19 is not spreading in Virginia and the risk here is low, officials said Virginians can take precautions to prevent the potential spread of this disease:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Officials also warned against misinformation and the stigmatization of certain populations, particularly Asian Americans and individuals of Asian descent.

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