Updated March 18
As of Wednesday morning there are no reported cases of COVID-19 on the Island, however the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has tested more individuals, but won’t say how many and that it’s only a matter of days before they have a positive result.
“We have cases pending,” chief clinical and quality officer Claire Seguin said. “It’s a matter of days before we’ll probably have a positive result. So we are here at the hospital preparing that way.”
The hospital is no longer allowing visitors to patients, is cancelling all elective surgery for the next six weeks, and will be doing “teleclinics” for outpatient needs. Visitors had already been restricted from going to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
It’s the latest major step for the Island’s hospital to ensure staff and patients remain safe from the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. Last week, the hospital closed its public areas such as the cafeteria and gift shop.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Hospital CEO Denise Schepici, communications director Katrina Delgadillo, and Seguin reiterated the need for social distancing and that people showing symptoms should stay at home, call their doctor, and not come to the hospital.
The hospital is following the Center for Disease Control and Mass Department of Public Health guidelines for testing, with a dedicated place in their emergency department for testing.
Schepici said the hospital has 25 licensed beds for its day-to-day, but has an extensive “surge expansion plan” in place to allow them more capacity. The hospital also has two full-time respiratory therapists on staff.
Schepici and Seguin repeatedly declined to comment further on other specifics such as the number of people who could be intubated and the number of ventilators.
Delgadillo said the hospital has the ability to expand its capacity, but that number was “fluid.”
“It’s an evolving situation and we are preparing for every situation across our system.
The hospital declined to comment on the number of tests saying that number could “change by the hour.” Testing results take an average of three days to come back.
“I can tell you at this time we have tested patients,” Seguin said.
“We are testing folks who meet the CDC and DPH guidelines and sending them out with nasal swabs,” Seguin said.
Depending on how sick a person is after being tested, the hospital will manage the person, but will instruct them to self-quarantine while they’re awaiting test results. The hospital will work with health agents to determine who should be tested based on exposure with a person who receives a positive test result.
Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake’s mention of using hotels such as the Winnetu and Surfside as potential “back up hospital” is being explored by the hospital.
The tent currently outside the hospital is being used as a triage tent. Normally the hospital does triage 24/7 inside the hospital, but they are now assuming everyone coming through their doors is a potential exposure.
The triage area has been created at the entrance of the Emergency Room for patients with respiratory symptoms. The front entrance of the hospital is closed, with signage directing people to the proper entrance. Pediatric walk-ins are suspended until further notice.
“This is a step in the prevention of keeping our employees here safe so we can continue to serve you guys and to be ready to serve should we have a positive outbreak,” Schepici said.
Schepici thanked the staff at the hospital for their work in keeping the community safe.
“How are the staff holding up? Are they afraid? I can tell you here at the hospital I have a hospital full of warriors,” Schepici said. “They’re putting their fears aside and they’re galvanized to fight this thing.”
The hospital has expanded its call center capacity. People can speak to a healthcare provider by calling 508-684-4500 from 8 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday. Outside of those hours a physician will be on call.
The hospital is also working with MVTV to create a virtual town meeting to update Islanders on the novel coronavirus. There is no date when it will air, but Schepici said it will most likely be next week.
Schepici reminded people to continue to practice social distancing, washing hands, and following state, federal, and local guidelines. If you are feeling sick and believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, call your primary care doctor for further instructions.
“This is going to be a long term event and we may need to prepare appropriately with limited resources,” Schepici said. “This is not business as usual.”
Updated to include details from Wednesday’s conference call. — Ed.