St. Charles Health System officials on Thursday said the hospital has expanded the thresholds for COVID-19 testing, but widespread testing still is not available to everyone with symptoms.
Since the early stages of COVID-19 in Central Oregon, patients needed to meet a narrow set of criteria in order to be tested.
This was a point of contention throughout the community as people believed they had the disease but weren’t able to get fully checked out.
In mid-March hospital officials said the swabs are running very low throughout Oregon “and we believe it’s unlikely we’ll be able to get more.”
“Therefore, we simply cannot test people who are worried but feel fine,” President and COE Joe Sluka said at the time.
But during a virtual public forum on Thursday, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive Jeff Absalon said more tests have become available and they are now able to test anyone who has worsening clinical symptoms of the disease such as fever, cough and shortness of breath – regardless of age or other other medical conditions.
Additionally, the new criteria shows tests will be given to those with 100.4-degree fever in the past 24 hours AND a cough or chest pain AND:
- Older than 60
- Children under 1-year-old.
- Ay child with household contact at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
- Patients with underlying medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and others.
- Patients who had contact with a patient with a COVID test pending or with confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Healthcare workers, including scribes and EMTs, first responders, any worker in a vial infrastructure role such as employee of an electrical, gas or other utility, water or sewer treatment facility
- Any patient with worsening symptoms (e.g. this could be a repeat visit to the ED or office, or no improvement in fever, cough, chest pains in the last 48 hours.)
“It’s really important for us to get the word out now that we are expanding our criteria for testing and help us identify who has the disease, how we isolate them and how we can appropriately manage this pandemic,” Absalon said.
Additionally, as soon as Friday the hospital could begin testing onsite rather than sending swabs to the University of Washington and waiting days for results.
“We are very excited to be able to do testing on-site,” he said. “The turnaround time will be in the number of hours instead of days. This is a big development for us.”
The St. Charles lab alone has tested 938 people with 33 positive cases and 137 cases pending.
Throughout Central Oregon, 52 people have tested positive for COVID-19; 50 in Deschutes County and one each in Crook and Jefferson counties, although the Jeffrerson County case is a patient who currently lives out of state.
Sluka said more testing options are being approved by the FDA and the hospital has had regular contact with state and congressional leaders along with the manufacturers to secure more tests in Central Oregon.
During the town hall, the hospital officials said the state is still in the early stages of the fight against COVID-19 and was lagging behind Portland, Salem and other metro areas in the state.
“If we get to a significant level of surge we may have as short as 6 days supplies of personal protective equipment on hand,” said St. Charles Health System senior data analyst Michael Johnson.
He predicts demand for hospital beds, beds in intensive care and ventilators will continue to rise through the end of this month.
Absalon said the hospital has plans to increase capacity if needed.
“That could mean we fall back into service rooms that had not been previously used for critical care, doubling up on patient rooms, re-purposing outpatient spaces and visitor spaces,” Absalon said.
Hospital revenues have decreased by 45% since the governor ordered a stop to elective surgeries and expenses have increased.
Chief Financial Officer Jenn Welander says the hospital has about eight months of operating cash and reserves on hand.
Health officials remain adamant that now is the time to double-down on social distancing efforts.
“I think the take-home message is we need to stay the course. Staying home and socially distancing are our best weapon in this fight,” Sluka said.
Doctors quashed rumors that hydroxychloroquine is available to the general public. It is only used in hospitals and not available through pharmacies.