ALBANY — Capital Region hospitals established outside testing areas, suspended routine visits and restricted patient visitation as part of their coronavirus COVID-19 response protocols, health officials said Friday.
Area hospital representatives outlined their COVID-19 preparedness plans in a media briefing Friday afternoon at Albany Medical Center. More than 10 area hospitals and health care facilities were represented at the briefing, including Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Health Partners, Columbia Memorial Health, Ellis Medicine, Saratoga Hospital Glens Falls Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare Amsterdam.
Dr. Clifford Belden, CMH’s chief medical officer, said CMH has tested fewer than 20 people for COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon. Those tested in the Twin Counties includes two people who were under precautionary quarantine this week, but all results came back negative.
“It’s about 15 — we haven’t had to test many,” Belden said. “It’s obviously a smaller area. The fear of a large number of cases and larger need for testing will be coming, but we have not had that yet.”
The Twin Counties had no positive cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon.
“Testing is still somewhat in limited supply,” said Dr. Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer with St. Peter’s Health Partners. “We need more testing capability.”
Hospital representatives evaded answering questions regarding the number of tests each facility has on hand. No one would provide an exact or estimated number of tests they have in stock.
Patients most at risk — senior citizens and people with immune-compromised or other underlying conditions — are health professionals’ first priority to test. About 80% of people who become infected with the virus will recover on their own, but the remaining 20% will need medical treatment.
All hospitals at Friday’s briefing have adopted strict visitation guidelines. No one under the age of 16 is permitted to enter a facility. Obstetric patients may have one support person at a time. Neonatal intensive Care Unit patients may have one birth parent and one significant other who must remain in the room for the visit.
Patients receiving end-of-life treatment may have two visitors. Minors under the age of 18 can have one visitor, parent or guardian, according to a statement from Albany Medical Health system.
Each visitor will be interviewed and asked about their respiratory symptoms before they can enter the hospital. All vendors will have their temperature taken before allowed entry. Any person with a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will not be permitted into the hospital.
Capital Region hospital COVID-19 tests are sent to the Wadsworth Center, located inside the state Department of Health in Albany. Health officials said test results were available within 24 hours.
Columbia Memorial Health has facilities in eight locations in Columbia and Greene counties and one in Red Hook in Dutchess County. The facilities include Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson — the Twin Counties’ only hospital. CMH is conducting tests at three Columbia County locations: At the emergency department inside Columbia Memorial Hospital and at two Rapid Care facilities — one at 283 Mountain View Road, Copake, and 2827 Route 9, Valatie.
Residents with symptoms of the coronavirus, which include coughing, fever and shortness of breath, are directed to call their primary health care providers to determine if they need a test.
“They have been approved for that since Wednesday,” Belden said of CMH’s testing sites. “It runs much smoother if we know that you are coming. The Rapid Care facilities are relatively small with one provider and one receptionist, so if people immediately go there, they could overwhelm the testing facilities.”
Patients can be tested with a swab to the nose and throat from their vehicles, if necessary, to limit exposure, Belden said.
Albany Medical Center has 46 ventilators, Belden said. Columbia Memorial Hospital has about a dozen ventilators.
“But we can rent more as we need it,” he added.
Hospitals are preparing to cancel elective surgeries and call in extra staff to accommodate extra beds or assistance.
“This is a fluid situation that is changing by the hour,” said Dr. David Liebers, infectious disease specialist with Ellis Medicine. “We have not had enough patients in our community to merit that response as of yet.”
Patients need a referral from their primary care provider for assessment and potential testing, Hanks said, adding a provider can make the determination can be made over the telephone, or by video call if necessary.
Area hospitals have conserved supplies and created separate locations for COVID-19 patients to reduce the virus spread. Albany Medical Center set up a large, white tent in the parking lot removed from the emergency department.
“This way, we can properly direct our patients where they need to go without compromising our other patients or staff,” said Dr. Ferdinand Venditti, Albany Med’s general director and executive vice president for System Care Delivery. “We are a Level 1 trauma center. There are many things we do that are very important and unique to our community and these testing sites will help aid containment and control.”
All area hospitals continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department.
CMH created a hotline specifically dedicated to COVID-19 questions and recommendations. Residents with symptoms or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 who have questions or concerns can call 518-828-8249, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Whatever the number of cases is right now, it will be greater tonight, greater in a week and greater in a month,” Liebers said. “But we’re prepared to handle all of that.”
Editor's note: This article reflects a clarification regarding the CMH hotline and corrects the spelling of Columbia Memorial Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clifford Belden's last name.