Physicians at Powell River General Hospital are urging Powell River residents to do their utmost to avoid taxing the system.
Dr. Werner Schoeman, an emergency room physician, and Dr. Sasha Uhlmann, an internist, outlined preparations going on at the hospital, but underscored the importance of people preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Schoeman says if a person is presenting with symptoms of COVID-19, they should phone their family physician, or 811, or use the online screening tool at bc.thrive.health/covid19.
“Do not come to the emergency department for testing unless you have been instructed to do so,” explains Schoeman.
He adds that if someone is sick enough to be admitted to hospital, they will get tested.
Schoeman says he is not aware of any admitted patient to Powell River General Hospital who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially because we aren’t currently testing widely due to the reality of system constraints,” he adds. “Broadly speaking, for every patient sick enough to warrant admission and actually get tested, there are likely nine patients or more in the community with mild, or perhaps even no symptoms. We just truly don’t fully understand how this virus transmits and behaves yet.”
Schoeman says the hospital currently has enough equipment to deal with COVID-19, but it could become overwhelmed.
“Our system will be able to cope with a very, very limited outbreak, as in a handful of admitted patients in a week,” explains Schoeman. “If we have an unimpeded virus spread in the community, we won’t cope.”
There is an emergency plan in place at the hospital with regular updates.
“But famously, everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face,” says Schoeman. “There is the reality of physical space, trained staff and equipment. I don’t want the community to be complacent because we have a plan. This virus will not be beaten in the hospitals, it will be beaten in the empty streets.”
He said the hospital, unfortunately, is still seeing patients with influenza-like illness present to the emergency room without referral, requesting to be tested for COVID-19.
“If you are not sick enough to be admitted to hospital, you won’t be tested,” said Schoeman. “Patients with cough and fever are seen at the ambulance bay and are not brought into the ER unless needed.”
All of the admitted COVID-19 cases will come through the emergency room.
“There will likely be a lot of people with mild symptoms not requiring medical treatment that I will hopefully not see,” says Schoeman. “Every time you come to the ER with mild symptoms you risk spreading it to our staff and other patients. I have not seen any fear or hesitancy among our nurses and staff and cleaners in caring for possible COVID-19 patients. It takes guts putting on your gear and going into a contaminated room. This needs to be celebrated, but also respected. Let us save our staff to care for the really sick.”
Uhlmann says there are designated parts of the hospital for patients with COVID-19.
“We have a ward for patients who are sick, but do not require ICU level interventions,” says Uhlmann. “We also have an area designated as a COVID-19 ICU, where COVID-19 positive patients will go if they need to be on a ventilator.
“We know a lot about this virus, but unfortunately there are no specific treatments other than supportive care. Currently, there are no approved medications for the treatment of COVID-19 in Canada, although several are under investigation. I would caution people against self-treating with medications that are not approved, as this can be dangerous.”
Uhlmann says the most important thing for people to know right now is that people need to be vigilant when it comes to physical distancing and quarantine.
“We are seeing some encouraging numbers in terms of flattening the curve but all it takes is for one case in a long-term care facility to cause an outbreak that will overwhelm our local health-care system and cause many deaths,” he adds. “This may last for months, but if we all continue to isolate, we can prevent Powell River from becoming another Northern Italy or New York.”