Atrium Stanly makes preparations for possibility of coronavirus outbreak

Published 3:43 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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Staff and doctors at Atrium Health Stanly feel they are prepared and ready to meet the needs of patients, if the spread of Covid-19, the disease that causes the coronavirus, increases in the county.

As of now, only one person has tested positive for the virus in Stanly and they are at home isolating and following the directives of the health department.

“We’ve been working for several weeks now, preparing and responding to the pandemic given what we know…but it’s a very fluid situation,” said Brian Freeman, facility executive at Atrium Health Stanly.

The hospital system is restricting visitors to only essential visitation, which went into place last week.

Atrium Stanly has been licensed for 109 hospital beds, though only 62 can be utilized — 35 are reserved for a medical unit under construction and 12 are dedicated to Behavioral Health.

The hospital has contingency plans in place to expand its bed capacity up to 40 percent during a time of emergency. Due to a lower volume of patients, Freeman said the bed capacity is currently around 60 percent. Any empty beds could be used for people who become ill due to Covid-19. The hospital also has 10 ventilators and could get more if needed either through the Atrium Health hospital system or through the county emergency operations center.

The hospital monitors its supply of gloves, face shields, surgical masks and N95 respirators on a daily basis and did so long before the virus outbreak, he said. It has access to additional supplies through the hospital system, through routine vendors such as Medline Industries and county emergency operations.

“Right now, we’re in really, really good supply of protective equipment,” Freeman said.

Freeman said he is comfortable with the amount of protective equipment on site and feels he has the appropriate supplies to take care of all patients that come through the emergency department, including those potentially diagnosed with Covid-19.

Symptoms of the virus include coughing, fever and shortness of breath. These symptoms are thought to appear between two and 14 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been more than 500 confirmed cases in North Carolina, with two people having died, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Across the country, there has been almost 60,000 cases with roughly 800 deaths.

Atrium is working to spread the word of how to curtail infections.

The difficult part about the virus is detecting it: Some people who contract it get sick and exhibit the common symptoms while others who contract it are asymptomatic and feel fine. That’s why it’s crucial people stay home if possible and limit contact with others, said Dr. Geoff Murphy, chairman and medical director of the department of emergency medicine and president of the medical staff.

Covid-19 is also not just affecting older people or those with underlying conditions.

“As the pandemic spreads, we’re starting to see that it is affecting younger individuals as well,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that based on available data, the virus appears to be more deadlier than the common flu.

The biggest challenge so far in combating Covid-19 in Stanly County is not the virus itself, but the the fear that comes with it.

“We understand that people are frightened by what they’re seeing on TV and social media,” Freeman said. “Unfortunately fear can drive people’s actions and decisions which may not always be the most logical choices that they make.”

Atrium Stanly urges the community along with its own team to pay attention to the CDC guidelines for signs and symptoms along with Atrium’s online tools and information available at the county and state level.

“Try to be logical even though it’s a fearful situation,” Freeman said.

The public can also play a role in helping to mitigate the spread by simply isolating themselves and practicing social distancing, which requires maintaining a distance from others of about six feet, according to the CDC.

“The more we can get people to adhere to limiting their exposure to each other, then the better we can really bend that curve and stop the spread,” Freeman said.

This week, Atrium opened a drive-through coronavirus testing center at the Concord racetrack. People cannot simply show up to the racetrack for testing; they have to first go through either a physician or one of Atrium’s virtual visits.

As the hospital continues to prepare and plan for a potential rise in Covid-19 cases, Freeman said they have identified separate locations for infected patients or those who might be infected and for traditional patients.

Though Stanly has been relatively unaffected so far by the outbreak, that potentially could change.

Freeman said people can look to history regarding how other countries and other parts of the state have already been infected. The first reported case in Mecklenburg County was on March 12, but the county has has more than 140 confirmed cases as of March 24. The county issued a “state at home” order for all residents Tuesday due to the growing spread.

The reason the hospital is preparing “unlike anything we’ve ever done before” is because “if history repeats itself, yes Stanly County will be hit just as hard as Mecklenburg County just based on social spread,” Freeman said. “That’s what we have to be prepared for.”

Murphy said he believes Atrium Health Stanly is doing enough to prepare and that the hospital has the benefit of learning from other states, like New York, Washington and California, that have been fighting the outbreak for a longer period of time.

If people think they have symptoms, they should contact their local doctor, health department or sign up for an Atrium Health virtual visit, where they can chat with a medical professional.

Atrium Health offers an online COVID-19 assessment tool, a health hotline at 704-468-8888, virtual visits with video chat and eVisits online. People can also visit atrium

For North Carolina’s COVID-19 Assistance Line, dial 2-1-1, and for the Stanly County Health Department Coronavirus Helpline call 704-986-7483.

Contact reporter Chris Miller at 704-982-2122.


About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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