Northern Inyo Hospital gave their weekly COVID-19 update to members of the media on Monday, April 6, 2020.
Dr. Stacey Brown told the media that the hospital is currently functioning at full capacity. “NIH is fully functional for all services at this time. If you break your leg, we are here to treat that,” Brown expressed.
Interim Chief Medical Officer, Will Timbers, shifted the discussion to COVID testing protocols at the hospital. He highlighted false negative tests, which are tests where a patient appears to not have coronavirus, but ends up actually having it. “No test that we do is going to be 100% perfect. We need to make sure to get a really good nasal swab to ensure that we can find out if they have it or not. There are false negatives, where the tests aren’t completely reliable due to limitations in the testing,” Timbers remarked.
Brown added that testing kits will continue to be reserved for essential workers and those with pre-existing conditions. The Rural Health Director said, “The priorities for testing will be for critical staff and critically ill patients. We know the spread of COVID-19 is communicable, so there is no need to test the general public.”
The amount of time it takes for Northern Inyo Hospital to obtain COVID-19 results is becoming more efficient as each week passes. Brown told the media that the hospital is now getting results back in about a day and a half. “Turnaround testing via LabCorp takes about 1.5 days now. LabCorp in Phoenix is doing a really nice job of getting the results to us,” he remarked. When NIHD started testing last month, the turnaround time for lab results was taking anywhere between 7-10 days.
Patients can expect even faster coronavirus testing in the future. The hospital is about one to two weeks away from rolling out their in-house testing, which will take about an hour. “In-house testing is about a week or two off at this point. We are hoping to do in-house testing by the end of the month,” said Brown.
Whether to wear facial covering or not to reduce the spread of coronavirus has been a hot topic of discussion throughout the world, with the CDC now recommending that the general public wear masks after previously discouraging the public from using them. Dr. Brown is encouraging the general public to cover-up. “The CDC came down with recommendations for decreasing transmission in the community by wearing masks. The push on that is to have you protect the rest of the community from spewing out the virus from your mouth. It looks like many people are transmitting coronavirus without showing symptoms, so it is smart to wear masks. My anticipation is that you are going to see the adoption of the masks in our community,” Brown expressed.
The Rural Health Director stated that the community has been stepping up as far as helping out with medical supplies. One such program that Brown says has been quite successful is “project cover-up,” a grassroots effort in which local seamstresses and quilters have created masks for healthcare workers to use. “’Project Cover-Up’ has been a great example of the community stepping up during the pandemic,” Brown said. “So far, we have had over 200 masks donated.”
Dr. Brown is encouraging people to continue to donate medical supplies. “If people are interested in dropping off Personal Protective Equipment donations, you can drop them off at the front of the hospital.”
The Interim Chief Medical Officer, Will Timbers spoke about the possibility of people building up immunity to coronavirus, and if the data he has been examining is accurate, it is a promising sign. “It does seem like with the majority of patients who have COVID, that there is some herd immunity at this point. The data suggests that there are some antibodies that are being built up in patients,” Timbers said.
Antibody testing to see if patients with COVID-19 are building immunity to the virus will be implemented in medical facilities across the world soon. As for testing locally, the public can expect it to be ready some time around May. Dr. Brown said, “Larry Weber, our Director of Diagnostic Services, says there is a rush for antibody testing to be implemented by many companies. Larry and his team have vetted a company that has a good reputation, and that looks very promising. I still don’t see testing happening for a few weeks though. Right now, we are looking at early May.”