Local hospitals limiting visitors, cancelling volunteers in face of pandemic

'Eventually it will come, and we’ll be ready': hospitals planning to open separate COVID-19 testing facilities

WELLINGTON COUNTY – When the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, health care facilities here activated their pandemic plans.

At Groves, Palmerston and Louise Marshall hospitals, that means reducing non-essential activity, including suspending volunteer activity and restricting visitors in the hospitals.

“Part of that is for their own protection,” said Stephen Street, president and CEO of the three hospitals.

He added many hospital volunteers are retired and may be vulnerable to the virus.

The hospitals will be using a single point of entry and screening visitors for their travel history and health condition before they enter the hospital.

Effective immediately, only one visitor is allowed to accompany an emergency patient or youth 18 or younger, and one visitor at a time is allowed to visit palliative and obstetrical patients.

Street said senior staff looked at the staff pool and decided what work can be deferred to free up staff for duties related to COVID-19.

Right now that means staffing screening stations at entrances, but when COVID-19 patients begin to emerge, it will mean assessing, testing and treating affected patients.

The hospitals also are preparing separate, dedicated spaces at their facilities to test and treat people who may have COVID-19.

Street said in an interview on March 11 that his team has submitted proposals to the Ministry of Health to operate testing centres, “and we’re now waiting to hear from the province,” he said.

At Groves Memorial Community Hospital and Palmerston and District Hospital, there will be space set aside, away from the emergency department but inside the facilities, he said.

Because Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest is currently under renovations, there are two sites outside the hospital under consideration for test centres.

Street said that while a number of people in the area have been tested, so far there are no cases of the novel coronavirus in Wellington County.

“Because we’re a rural area and more spread out, we haven’t seen the activity of urban centres. But eventually it will come, and we’ll be ready,” he said.

Street said he met with public health and municipal government officials earlier in the week to draw up plans and share information.

“It’s a challenging environment when things are changing so quickly,” he said.

He said 80 per cent of the people who contract the virus have symptoms that feel like the common cold. They feel sick for a couple of days and then begin to recover.

Fifteen per cent have mild to moderate symptoms and feel more like they have the flu. It may take a week or more before they start to feel better.

Five per cent present with severe symptoms – more like pneumonia, he said.

“It’s that 20 per cent we worry about [the 15 plus five],” he said. “And really, it’s the age demographic. This virus is really hard on the elderly.”

Information about the virus changes daily and, in some cases, hourly. For the most up-to-date information, visit wdgpublichealth.ca/your-health/novel-coronavirus-covid-19.

For a complete list of county closures due to COVID-19, click here.