Coronavirus

CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Health Department, supported by UPMC Western Maryland, is considering when and where drive-thru COVID-19 test facilities could be installed. 

“Right now in the state of Maryland, because of the same testing limitations, all state (drive-through) sites planned to be opened at vehicle emission testing sites are on hold,” Allegany and Garrett County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Corder stated on Tuesday. “They plan to open once there is testing capacity to handle the volume. We in Allegany County are in the same response phase.”

Laboratories are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 tests, which are prioritized for hospitalized patients, symptomatic health care workers and emergency responders, symptomatic patients who are medically fragile and live in congregate housing such as nursing homes, and symptomatic high-risk unstable patients whose care would be altered by a diagnosis of COVID-19, she said.

Unanswered questions

Because the COVID-19 situation is fluid, evolving and often chaotic, it’s difficult to get answers to basic questions, regarding test availability, from hospital, county and state officials.

When asked Tuesday how many COVID-19 tests are in Allegany County, Corder referred the question to the hospital.

UPMC Western Maryland, however, said it only collects specimens and does not have tests.

When asked how many folks have been tested for COVID-19 in Allegany County including positive, negative and pending results, Corder referred to Monday’s numbers, which showed that 141 people tested negative for the disease, and test results were pending for 23 additional residents.

Those numbers will be updated Wednesday, she said.

Garrett County also couldn’t say how many folks have been tested for the virus, or how many tests are available.

“We do not have a count of how many have been tested because testing is not centralized,” Garrett County Health Department Public Information Officer Diane Lee said via email on Tuesday. “We do not have access to how many testing supplies are available.”

Garrett Regional Medical Center has a drive-thru testing site, but patients are required to have orders from their provider to be tested. 

Several other Garrett medical providers are also doing testing.

Although supplies are limited, an allocation plan for providing medical personal protection equipment is in place, Lee said.  

“Provider requests are being fulfilled for small numbers of gowns, N-95 respirators, and face masks to help meet the needs in the community,” she said. “We received a limited supply of items from the state of Maryland last week that will be provided to long-term care facilities to help protect their health care workers.”

The Maryland Health Department is developing a way to provide timely testing number data, according to spokesman Charles Gischlar, but it’s not known when a plan will come to fruition.

Hospital changes

Effective Wednesday, UPMC Western Maryland’s hospital inpatient and outpatient visitation guidelines will shift from limited to restricted. 

“Rare exceptions will be made in end-of-life and special circumstances,” the health care system said via press release on Tuesday and added that any exceptions must be approved by James Karstetter, vice president, chief nursing officer. 

Additionally, any non-patient with new shortness of breath, fever, cough, or contact with someone who is under investigation for COVID-19 should not enter UPMC Western Maryland. 

A triage call number is available, for patients who suspect they have acquired the virus, at 240-964-1000.

There will be no visitors for inpatients being tested for or diagnosed with COVID-19.

All locations are open for patients with urgent needs that do not require an emergency room visit.  

“These locations are requesting all patients to return to their vehicles and call in to enter the facility,” officials stated. “This will allow staff to screen the patients for COVID-19 symptoms before entering and providing necessary direction.”

More details are available at wmhs.com/coronavirus-information/.

Governor updates

The day after he closed nonessential businesses across the state, Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday was interviewed by various news organizations.

“We‘ve been about as aggressive as anyone in the country,” he reportedly told CNN. “One of the first states to declare a state of emergency, one of the first states to close all the schools and then we closed all the bars and restaurants and this is another further step.”

Hogan planned to meet with the National Guard to erect a 250-bed hospital in the Baltimore Convention Center to help manage the COVID-19 surge. 

“We’re all fighting this thing as best we can from all directions,” he said. “This is not over by any stretch of the imagination and we need everybody at the federal, state and local level of government, the private sector, and every individual to help us fight this battle.”

Teresa McMinn is the digital editor at Cumberland Times-News. Email her at tmcminn@times-news.com, call/text her at 304-639-2371 and follow her on Twitter.

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