Coronavirus is Here. How is Northern Inyo Hospital Dealing With it?

NIHD Rural Health Director, Dr. Stacey Brown provided the latest update on COVID-19 in Bishop during a conference call Monday afternoon.

Coronavirus already has a presence in the Eastern Sierra, with a confirmed case occurring in Mammoth Lakes this past weekend. Brown expects a case in Inyo County soon.

“Inyo county does still not have a positive test. In the district, we have done a total of thirty-four tests, eighteen are negative and the balance is pending.” Brown remarked. “For any positive cases that happen in Inyo County, the district will be jointly announcing those with the Inyo County Public Health Department. So as soon as we do have a positive case, which I do expect at some point, those will be reported as a joint effort.”

The RHC Director says both the hospital and county have COVID-19 test kits still available. “We still have availability of testing COVID out in the community, as well as the hospital. However, they are not available for the general public right now. Patients have to be screened and will be tested if it looks like a positive test will be indicated.” Brown said to media members.

Though it is still a positive that testing is available in the community, the wait time to confirm a positive case of coronavirus takes quite some time.

“The difficulty is that the tests that both NIH and Mammoth Hospital are sending out are still sent to LabCorp. The turnaround time on average is 4.7 days [to receive a result] and some of them are still pending seven days out.”

The long wait time for tests results is definitely not a good thing. However, Northern Inyo Hospital fortuitously has a high-tech machine from molecular diagnostics company, Cepheid Inc. The machine, known as the “Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test” could allow testing results to be provided in as little as forty-five minutes.

“Luckily the hospital lab has a state-of-the-art machine that has the capacity to do rapid testing. This past Wednesday, the FDA authorized Cepheid to go ahead and release the bedside coronavirus testing.” Dr. Brown said. “We are working diligently to get less than an hour bedside testing locally. It may take a little bit of time to get the tests set up, but the hospital may have the ability to get testing out locally that will take about 45 minutes, which would be huge for the district.”

Don’t expect the rapid testing to be available to the general public. Dr. Brown emphasized that tests are for symptomatic individuals along with medical personnel.  “The tests are really supposed to be used for in patient, emergency room patients or if you are trying to clear a healthcare worker to try and work again after dealing with a COVID patient.”

NIHD is taking a new proactive measure when it comes to implementing new ways to see patients. Telemedicine will soon be available for patients to receive primary care.

“A lot of places have been toying with telemedicine for a while to see if it fits the mode in their community. We have been considering it for our district as well. To roll this out in a primary care fashion or triage fashion is something we want to do. Since people are at home, it makes sense to try and reach them from home. “

Social distancing is also an important step that needs to be taken to “flatten the curve.” The action will also help save lives and resources.

Brown says, “I want to stress to the public that this ‘Stay Home’ order from the governor and bolstered by our local health officials is really critical to the success of us making it through this COVID pandemic intact. Folks that are staying home are able to flatten that curve and allow the limited number of healthcare resources to reach the people without being overloaded.”

With that being emphasized, some people are doing a great job at social distancing, while others are not.

“I am super happy to see the public pretty much following those guidelines to go out for essentials only like gas, medical, and grocery.” Brown stated. “However, I am not surprised, but unhappy about folks that are enjoying their spring breaks in beaches and crowded environments. Remember, being young doesn’t mean you’re invincible.”