No visitors, volunteers at long-term care facilities; restrictions at hospitals

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

At Groves, Palmerston and Louise Marshall hospitals, that means stopping volunteer activity and strict visitor restrictions.

“Part of that is for their own protection,” said Stephen Street, president and CEO of the three hospitals, adding that many hospital volunteers are retired folks who 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.

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

Street said staff is being redeployed for duties related to COVID-19.

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

The hospitals are preparing assessment centres at their facilities “and we’re now waiting to hear from the province,” Street 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 there.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health announced on March 16 that one case of COVID-19 has been identified in Dufferin County – a traveller returning from the U.S.

An assessment centre opened in Guelph this week at 65 Delhi Street beside Guelph General Hospital.

“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,” Street said.

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

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.”

Long-term care facilities stepped up screening of visitors last week but on orders from the Ministry of Health late last week, have barred visitors until further notice.

They have also enhanced cleaning in high-touch areas and some have eliminated food and beverage consumption in social areas to prevent the transmission of germs.

Staff at the Wellington Terrace are following the same protocol for COVID-19 as they do for influenza, said administrator Suzanne Schwartzentruber.

Staff are self-screening for fever and respiratory symptoms and are to report travel plans to managers. And they are to self-isolate for 14 days if they have visited a Level 1, 2 or 3 affected country.

For the most up-to-date health information, visit the WDGPH website. For the latest news on COVID-19 check frequently on our COVID-19 tab on this website or follow us on Twitter @wellyadvertiser.