Slowing spread of coronavirus essential to protect healthcare system

Originally published on the Times Bulletin

Kirsten Barnhart / DHI Media News Editor

VAN WERT – While there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in Van Wert County, Van Wert Health’s Dr. George Trimble said there have been several people tested who came back negative. There is a low quantity of tests available in Van Wert. Therefore, Dr. Trimble is urging people to stay home and not come to the hospital requesting a test.

“There is a limited supply of tests and we have to save them for the cases that help us best manage the risk to society at-large,” said Dr. Trimble. “We are saving those tests for cases where we think it would help us manage that risk. We don’t have enough yet, but we’re working on it.”

Dr. Trimble said tests are not readily available. He also stated that getting a test, whether positive or negative, doesn’t change what happens to a person, because there is currently no treatment for the virus.

“We’re asking folks that if they are sick with this virus or even if they have symptoms for the common cold or the flu, whatever it is – if you’re coughing, have a fever, feel achy, sneezy, sore throat – (these are cold symptoms) you might have the coronavirus,” said Dr. Trimble. “The fact is you don’t need a test in order to get the diagnosis. Just pretend you have it. The fact is there is no medicine for it anyway.”

While certain drugs have been approved federally for treatment, those drugs are experimental and are only being prescribed to those who are actively dying of the virus. You cannot simply get a prescription for those drugs.

Van Wert Health has set up a special room where testing is being done if necessary. Rooms have been designated specifically for potential coronavirus cases so that the risk of cross-contamination is eliminated.

Van Wert Health holds disaster drills twice a year and has prepared for situations such as overcrowding in their hospital. Dr. Trimble noted, however, that it’s vital for each member of the community to play their part to ensure that the hospital does not become overwhelmed. Van Wert Health has three ventilators on-hand and five ICU beds.

Dr. Trimble explained a hypothetical scenario where Van Wert City has 10,000 people. If 25 percent of the 10,000 become infected there would be 2,500 city residents with the virus. If 1 percent of the 2,500 were serious cases that means there would be 25 people who need to be admitted to the hospital.

“You can see that if all of them came in at once, we could get rapidly overwhelmed and not be able to care for everybody that needs the care that they need,” said Dr. Trimble. “We would attempt to care for everybody, of course, but if we can’t spread out the cases in time, we could get overwhelmed.”

The hope is that even if 1 percent of 2,500 cases are serious, those cases don’t come into the hospital all at once, but rather over time.

Van Wert Health is still seeing people come to the hospital for things like serious falls, heart attacks, broken bones, and other health issues. Adding an influx of coronavirus cases on top of day-to-day hospital visits could be devastating for the hospital.

“If this virus gets too far to fast – if it grows legs – it will spread so rapidly that it will overwhelm our healthcare system,” said Dr. Trimble. “There is nothing that we can do here at the hospital to stop that part and that’s why we need to partner with the community carefully. We have to work together; they have to do their part so that if they get it, they are getting separated in time and enough so that we’re not overwhelmed here at the hospital.”

Dr. Trimble is asking residents to practice the social distancing rules laid out by the CDC. He said this will help unburden the healthcare system. Van Wert Health has taken many steps over the past couple of weeks to help slow the spread of the virus.

“We’re taking innumerable steps to help mitigate the risk associated with this virus,” said Dr. Trimble. “The biggest and most important step is we’re tiring to communicate to the community that they have to practice this social distancing thing that we keep talking about.”

Coronavirus can be transmitted by touching other people, infected surfaces, and particles in the air spread through a cough or sneeze. Staying six feet away from people is essential in order to slow and stop the spread of the virus.

“The vast majority of people can do this thing at home,” said Dr. Trimble. “I’m asking the public, stay home. Try to fix this at home with a little time and kindness. It will go away for the vast majority of people, but if you bring it to the ER hoping to get a swab or a diagnosis, number one: it won’t be offered to you unless you’re incredibly ill, and you’ll just be turned back home with the same instructions I’m giving you now.”

Dr. Trimble said those who leave their home with symptoms contaminate up to three people on average, including hospital staff and other patients at the hospital.

The peak of the coronavirus spread has not hit and the United States is still on an upward climb in cases. Dr. Trimble said the virus and precautions have to be “taken deadly seriously.” He said while Van Wert has not had documented cases yet, he believes they are coming.

“The actions we take now really do make a difference,” said Dr. Trimble. “It means that each of us has to accept that it’s a big problem and do our little part. The sum of a lot of little parts is a big outcome; we can save our community. I’m appealing to our residents’ sense of civic pride and civic duty to do their little part.”

In order to keep hospital staff and patients safe, Van Wert Health has reduced the number of people allowed in the hospital and reduced the ways in which a person can enter the hospital. Each person who enters must have their temperature checked and must fill out a survey about symptoms they may have. The cafeteria has been closed and all items are grab and go.

Dr. Trimble recommends that people that do absolutely need to go to the hospital call ahead so they can be instructed on where to go.