DuBOIS — The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed Tuesday the first positive COVID-19 case in Clearfield County.
“We have been in contact with the Department of Health and can now verify the first COVID-19 positive individual in Clearfield County,” said Dr. Shaun Sheehan, medical director of Emergency Medicine for all of Penn Highlands Healthcare and leader of the PHH COVID-19 Task Force, during a telephone news conference.
“This patient was not and has not been in a Penn Highlands Healthcare facility, and due to HIPAA regulations and respect for privacy, I am unable to release any additional information about that individual at this time,” said Sheehan. “The test came through the health system and all of our providers in and out of our network are working closely together and following the Department of Health guidelines. The test did come through our laboratory. However, our testing procedure is not done within the confines of a building at this point.”
Sheehan said Penn Highlands is following the guidelines set forth by the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re learning from experiences on the west coast of our country, New York City and certainly China,” said Sheehan. “We are following all guides and making decisions based on the clear guidance from these departments to keep our patients and our staff safe.”
On a daily basis, Sheehan said Penn Highlands is tracking how many tests are being administered, in addition to the results, both negative and positive.
“I only can confirm that through our laboratories,” said Sheehan. “There are other ways to perform tests certainly through the Department of Health and other laboratories that we are not contracted with. So I only can tell you, at this point, that we have slightly under 100 tests performed throughout the system. Most of those tests are still awaiting results. However, everyone that has come back except this one remains negative. I believe it’s around 20 negatives so far.”
“There is good news,” said Sheehan. “As laboratories across the country and our partners continue to increase their capacity for testing, we are improving our turnaround times for our tests. Up until recently it was taking up to seven to nine days to get a result and as a result of additional processing laboratories, we hope to get that down to 48 hours. Of course that’s subject to change as volumes change, but that’s our current experience.”
With regard to who is being tested for COVID-19, Sheehan said Penn Highlands is following DOH and CDC guidelines.
“There is a tiered guideline according to the availability of testing in your facility or region,” he said. “We are currently limited by the number of tests we can perform. So we are following the more limited tier guidelines from the Department of Health.”
The current recommendations for those who are being tested is “if you have symptoms, we need you to stay home, contact your primary care physician and follow their recommendations,” said Sheehan. “Not everyone needs to come to get a test. A lot of this, as you’re reading throughout the United States, is self-isolation. There is no current treatment or vaccine available. Only individuals that qualify under the current guidelines are receiving tests.”
Chief Operating Officer Mark Norman said Penn Highlands is prepared to care for COVID-19 patients and has taken many precautions to limit the exposure of COVID-19 to its patients, visitors and staff. To date, it has restricted visitors in its hospitals and nursing homes. Non-essential elective procedures have been canceled to reduce the number of people coming into the hospital.
“From a staff standpoint, obviously during these times where we have canceled some elective procedures, we do have some staff that is available that we can move to places that we need them,” said Norman. “If the need arises on more of an inpatient basis, we can move staff around. That’s a good thing from a health system is we are able as volumes fluctuate from outpatient to inpatient, we can move staff from one to the other. So we have that flexibility.”
From a supply standpoint, Norman said, “it is a challenge, but we are prepared. And the good thing about this is that we’re just now really seeing cases and we have been able to build up some inventory here in the last week or so. Obviously we need more, because we are always preparing for a worst case scenario where we need lots of personal protective equipment. So we’re trying to be very proactive in our preparations.”
Hospitals and other buildings have one public entrance open at each location, and all visitors who enter have their temperature checked and are verbally screened for symptoms of COVID-19.
Employees have been self-monitoring for COVID-19 and had opportunities for re-education about protective gear. PHH sends daily updates about COVID-19 from the PHH Task Force, the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 — cough, fever, sore throat and shortness of breath — is encouraged to stay home. Those persons should call their primary care provider or if they do not have a PCP, they can call the PHH referral line at 814-375-6644 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. From that phone call, the process to determine if a test should be performed begins.