PeaceHealth Southwest ready for possible coronavirus cases

They’ve run tests on a couple of people, but have had no confirmed cases in Clark County

CLARK COUNTY ㇐ The Novel Coronavirus, now dubbed Covid-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), has sickened nearly 43,000 people, mostly in China, with a death toll surpassing 1,000. 

The coronavirus is a common virus that can mutate to create new outbreaks, such as SARS or MERs. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control
The coronavirus is a common virus that can mutate to create new outbreaks, such as SARS or MERs. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called the virus a “very grave threat” for the rest of the world, though other experts have noted that new cases appear to be slowing down near the epicenter of Wuhan, China, perhaps signaling that the virus may begin to taper off in the coming months.

While no cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Clark County, Dr. Jason Hanley, Emergency Department medical director for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Group, says they have had a couple cases that they had to take precautions over.

Dr. Jason Hanley, Emergency Department medical director for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Group. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Southwest

“We can meet the patient outside, place a mask, and bring them through an accessory pathway to the Emergency Department,” Hanley says, “to not expose the waiting room and other patients, and put them in a negative pressure room.”

They then take more of a history, and determine whether samples need to be sent in for testing to confirm the presence of the Covid-19 virus. So far, only a couple of people have risen to the level of testing, and those came back negative for the virus.

While area health officials still consider the risk of the Novel Coronavirus to be low, Hanley says they’ll take all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of exposure.

That’s why if you go to a hospital, urgent care, or emergency room right now, you’re likely to be asked if you have traveled outside the country recently, or know anyone who has. Since Covid-19 is a coronavirus, the same family of viruses which cause the common flu, the initial symptoms are similar, including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath.

“The vast majority of people with viruses and coughing and fevers, this time of year, will have another type of virus,” says Hanley, “but of course we don’t want to take any chances with how severe this virus has been to this point. So it makes it quite challenging this time of year to have coronavirus on top of all the typical Winter-like viruses that we see.” 

The measles outbreak of 2018-19, while unfortunate, at least helped fine tune the system at most Clark County healthcare providers when it comes to dealing with highly contagious diseases.

“The measles provided a good practice, to say the least,” Hanley says.

The primary difference, at this point, is that health officials still aren’t sure exactly how this version of the coronavirus is spread. What makes measles so difficult is that it can be spread through contact, as well as droplets in the air after someone coughs or sneezes, which can linger for hours. Covid-19 appears to be highly contagious, but the exact method of spreading remains unclear.

WHO and the Centers for Disease Control say the virus appears to be mild in most cases, though approximately 5 percent of victims develop pneumonia. For the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions, that can be exceptionally dangerous.

Since most people in hospitals are elderly, or sick, it’s especially important that precautions are taken to avoid exposure.

Hanley says they have special rooms with negative pressure systems, where patients who may have Covid-19 can be examined. Staff members wear special gowns, as well as masks that help to prevent the virus from being breathed in.

One myth Hanley wants to clear up is that masks you buy at a hardware store likely won’t do anything to protect you from breathing in Covid-19, or any other virus.

“It’s a little false reassurance that people think if they wear a simple mask, they will be saved.”

Instead, Hanley says, those masks are helping to protect others from catching anything you might have. Healthcare providers use a special mask called an N-95, which can prevent airborne viruses from penetrating. 

Despite concern over the spread of the virus, Hanley says they remain cautiously optimistic that it will not become a major outbreak locally.

“I think the most reassuring thing to Clark County, and America in general is that it’s extremely unlikely, currently, that you’ll be exposed to this,” says Hanley. “And if things change and we do have an outbreak here, we’ll rely on the health department and quarantine to try to stay on top of it.”