First case of COVID-19 reported in Page; PMH prepared to treat patients

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Breaking News on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Page County, Virginia
Page Valley News will have continuing coverage of the Coronavirus' impact on Page County

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, March 31 — No counties in the Lord Fairfax Health District have been spared from the spread of the coronavirus.

The Virginia Department of Health reported the first case of COVID-19 in Page County earlier this morning. Page and Clarke were the last two counties in the health district to report a case of the virus — now they each have one.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the health district (as reported Tuesday morning by VDH) are as follows:

  • Frederick County — 12
  • Shenandoah County — 7
  • Warren County — 3
  • Clarke County — 1
  • Page County — 1

That brings the total number of coronavirus cases in the health district up to 24 — just five days ago, there were only nine reported cases.

Virginia reached 1,250 reported cases as of this morning, with 165 hospitalizations and 27 deaths. A total of 13,401 people have been tested statewide.

Currently, the nearest testing station is on Commerce Avenue in Front Royal. Valley Health has also established testing sites in Woodstock and Winchester.

Officials at Page Memorial Hospital say that there is no testing site in Page County at this time, but one may be established, if needed.

“We are ready to set up a testing site, but there really is not a need now,” said Dr. Barbara Walter, general surgeon and Vice President of Medical Affairs for Page Memorial Hospital.

For those who feel sick, Valley Health is asking that potential patients seek help based on the severity of their symptoms.

“It depends on how sick they feel,” Dr. Walter said. “We recommend that people don’t come to the ER right away.”

Dr. Walter stresses that those in the county who feel severely sick, should still go to the emergency room at Page Memorial Hospital. But for those who simply have symptoms, Valley Health has established a Respiratory Hotline at (540) 536-0380. The hotline is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Healthcare professionals on the hotline will direct callers who merit additional care to their primary care physician, if they have one, or direct them to urgent care if their symptoms are more severe. If the physician deems the patient should be tested for COVID-19, they will send an order online to a testing station, who will then contact the patient with a place and time for the test.

Valley Health created the hotline, increased telehealth capability and took other measures to help prevent the emergency rooms from being overrun and to keep from performing unnecessary tests. A backlog already exists for testing with the Department of Health and independent laboratory Quest.

Dr. Walter stresses that the volume is the big reason why it could typically take anywhere from three to 10 days to get results. Some severe cases have been expedited, with results within 48 hours.

“It’s waiting in line,” Dr. Walter said of the results. “It’s not the test itself that necessarily takes a lot of time, it’s getting to the test [and getting the results] that takes the time.”

Page Memorial Hospital is normally staffed for 18 beds, according to Dr. Walter. However, she notes that the facility has the physical capacity for up to 30 beds by repurposing other rooms and utilizing the surgical pre-op area.

If the COVID-19 outbreak runs rampant in Page County, seriously ill patients would be sent to the Winchester Medical Center or other hospitals in the region.

“We have a whole system approach,” said Dr. Walter, noting Valley Health facilities in Front Royal, Woodstock and Winchester. “We don’t staff [PMH] to care for critically ill patients. If they are seriously ill, [PMH] probably isn’t the best place for them.

“For example, we are capable of getting someone on a ventilator [in Luray],” Dr. Walter continued. “Our goal then would be to get them transferred to Winchester.”

Mark H. Merrill, Valley Health CEO and president, said the hospital system has about 175 ventilators for all of its hospitals with about 100 of them at Winchester, which has 495 beds and 48 critical care rooms.

Currently, Dr. Walter says Page Memorial Hospital has adequate staff and medical supplies.

“Yes, for now,” Dr. Walter said. “We have a supply chain from Winchester. We have enough supplies for the next 10 days, and we are getting them in on a regular basis.”

PMH has also benefitted from generous community support. Dr. Walter said the Luray hospital has received masks, gloves, face shields and goggles donated by local residents.

All visitation at PMH has been restricted. Dr. Walter notes that a key reason is to keep the staff safe and healthy “so we don’t have to quarantine them.”

Valley Health officials are meeting daily to discuss the challenges they face as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread. PMH staff underwent training and mock drills two to three weeks ago to prepare for the situation they now face as Page County reports its first case of coronavirus.

A key way to help prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus?

“We would like everyone to please stay home,” Dr. Walter said. “If we can mitigate the spread, we won’t overwhelm the system.”

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