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COVID-19 preparations in place at Worland, Thermopolis hospitals

Information in this article and other COVID-19 coverage in this issue were up to date as of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 25. Please check for updates throughout the day and week.

WORLAND – With 37 COVID-19 cases reported as of Tuesday in nine different Wyoming counties, including one case in Cody, the likelihood of additional Big Horn Basin cases emerging is not getting any lower.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have COVID-19 infection may have only mild symptoms of illness, or no symptoms at all, but they can still directly or indirectly transmit the virus to other folks.

Local hospitals are taking steps to ensure that the patients currently receiving care, and the hospital personnel providing it, remain COVID-19-free.

According to Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital (HSCMH) CEO Margie Molitor, no visitors are currently allowed in the hospital. There are two exceptions: hospitalized children may receive one adult visitor at a time; women about to give birth may have one visitor to provide support.

Washakie Medical Center (WMC) is part of the Banner Health system, and a press release from that organization reports an identical visitor policy at all Banner Health facilities. Banner Health encourages visiting by means of telephone, “FaceTime” or other types of video calls.

Serious COVID-19 cases

Although the CDC says that most people infected with COVID-19 will have mild cases, not requiring hospitalization, older folks and those with serious underlying health conditions may have more serious symptoms. What will local hospitals do if potential COVID-19 patients present for care?

Molitor described the current and planned process at HSCMH. “Before we even allow patients to come into our emergency room (ER), we’re screening them to see, do you have a fever, do you have shortness of breath, do you have a cough? And if they do, we’re putting a mask on them right away. We have a negative pressure ER that we have developed, and then we’re going to start the screening.” After first ruling out other common diagnoses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, the hospital would test them for COVID-19.

Although no patients with the infection have presented to HSCMH for care, Molitor described how her facility plans to care for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, should there be any. “We’re going to do what we can do for that patient. We do have ventilators here. Ventilated patients would usually be transferred to Casper or Billings. If we could transfer them, we probably would. If that’s not a possibility, we would take care of them here. Luckily, we’re not in that situation right now.”

Molitor also mentioned that HSCMH is constantly fine-tuning and working out any kinks in its process, so that its clinics in Thermopolis, Worland and Basin will follow the protocol in a consistent way.

In a recent interview, WMC Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Van Brunt described that facility’s protocol if patients with possible COVID-19 infection were to present for care. The hospital follows an algorithm for testing developed by CDC and the Wyoming Department of Health.

“If we’re suspicious that they have been exposed, or may have that coronavirus, we establish them with a mask, and put them in a particular room – we do have the negative pressure rooms, here at our hospital – and we provide care to that patient.” Van Brunt said. She articulated the next stages of WMC’s decision-making. “Can we safely provide that testing, monitoring and care of that patient, or do they need to transfer to a higher level of care? It’s all based on what that patient’s symptoms are when they present here. We have each piece of that ready to go as a coordinated effort within Banner Health, utilizing our experts within our organization, local Public Health and the Wyoming Department of Health,” Van Brunt concluded.

As of Tuesday afternoon, neither Washakie County nor Hot Springs County had reported any COVID-19 patients, and neither county were reporting any positive cases.