COVID-19 drive-thru testing

A healthcare worker is seen during a COVID-19 drive-thru testing location in Cullman on Friday, March 20.

As Cullman registered its third case of COVID-19 coronavirus infection Tuesday, health officials are urging residents to take to heart the social distancing guidelines put forth by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Cullman Regional said Tuesday that none of the coronavirus cases locally has required hospitalization, and that the affected individuals are self-quarantined, while self-monitoring for symptoms, at home.

“At this point, we don’t have the massive critically ill population that you’re seeing on the national news in New York City and urban areas, and hopefully we won’t get to a point where that’s the case — but that’s not a given,” said Dossey.

“I would say that, for us, we’re ready and we’re prepared. I think our community seems to be adhering to the guidelines that help us ‘flatten the curve’ and practicing social distancing or staying at home. That might be easier for us because we’re in a rural area, but at the same time, we don’t know what things will look like as time goes on.”

Dossey said the hospital has so far tested about 100 patients — all people who meet specific criteria put forward by the CDC and federal health officials — for the coronavirus. Though the hospital operates a drive-up testing station, all tests are scheduled ahead of time, and they’re made by referral after a patient has consulted with a physician or nurse practitioner.

“You have to be evaluated first, and the criteria has gotten more strict; we just received a new round of criteria from the state yesterday,” she said. “The idea is not to deny people testing; it’s to use our resources for those who are in high-risk groups.”

So far, Cullman Regional hasn’t seen the kind of strain on its resources that hospitals in major cities have. “We currently have adequate supplies,” said Dossey. “In fact, we currently have fewer patients in our hospital than we did a week ago. As time goes on, there are still unknowns, because we’re unsure if our normal delivery of supplies will continue as hot spots in other areas increase the demand. Also, we’re unsure whether there’ll be an increase in cases here.”

Cullman Emergency Management Agency director Phyllis Little said Tuesday there is an overall supply shortage for personal protective equipment, although the effects of that shortage are far more acute in larger cities where the incidence of outbreak is much higher — as well as high-density facilities everywhere people are in continuous close contact.

“We’re still trying to meet everyday needs, even for other, more common strains of flu, in places like nursing homes and jails, and statewide, finding supplies is really hard,” she said. “The supply chain is trying, but a lot of things are being bought up at the federal level, which makes it harder locally to source supplies even through your regular vendors.”

Little also advised looking to conventional good hygiene as a first-line defense strategy from safeguarding against risk. “Don’t get hung up on hand sanitizer as the be-all, end-all,” she said. “Soap and hot water is still the best way to clean your hands.”

Cullman Regional has established a COVID-19 coronavirus call center, which is available seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. “that has been our primary way of communicating with our community in a real-time way on the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dossey, “and it is staffed by live operators; people who answer the phone.” You can reach the call center at 256-735-5530, and visit the hospital’s COVID-19 informational web page at cullmanregional.com/coronavirus-2.

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