No COVID-19 cases reported in Rabun County so far, but hospitals say they’re prepared to serve public

  • Megan Broome/The Clayton Tribune Mountain Lakes Medical Center staff members Kim Ingram, Chief Nursing Officer, Rachel Cowart, Infections Control Nurse and Tammy Coll, CEO, discuss the hospitals preparations for the COVID-19 outbreak.
    Megan Broome/The Clayton Tribune Mountain Lakes Medical Center staff members Kim Ingram, Chief Nursing Officer, Rachel Cowart, Infections Control Nurse and Tammy Coll, CEO, discuss the hospitals preparations for the COVID-19 outbreak.

CLAYTON—Four people have been tested for the COVID-19 virus in Rabun County, but there are no confirmed cases of the virus locally, Mountain Lakes Medical Center officials said Monday.

“We’ve had patients that we have been concerned about, we’ve had patients that we have tested,” said Kim Ingram, Chief Nursing Officer at MLMC. “I can tell you that we have the supplies that we need to take care of the citizens of Rabun County, and not only keep our patients safe, but also keep our employees, our nurses and our doctors safe.”

Chief Executive Officer Tammy Coll said the hospital has been gearing up to deal with the COVID-19 virus since January.

“I think we’re doing exactly what the Centers for Disease Control are recommending we do right now,” Coll said. “It’s changing multiple times a day. There are a lot of moving pieces.”

While the hospital has taken steps to limit the spread of infection, Coll stressed that anyone who feels they need treatment should seek treatment.

“We don’t want to deter people from coming to the emergency room when you feel like you’re having an emergency,” Coll said. “We want people to continue to come to the hospital to seek treatment when treatment is warranted.”

Ingram said the hospital is prepared to treat patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, which include upper respiratory distress.

“We have respirators, we have negative pressure rooms to isolate patients who would need that,” she said. “But there are a lot of steps you would go through before you would get to the respirator. Identifying patients early who need care and need hospitalization, there are a lot of things we can do before that.”

She said the first step for anyone who has concerns should be to contact their health care provider by phone.

“Tell your doctor what is going on,” Ingram said. “If your doctor feels you need to be tested, then they can refer you to testing. The CDC recommends that we rule out the flu first. Most people we are seeing are having similar symptoms to the flu. So, if you have the flu, we want to know what is causing your symptoms.”

The most common symptom of COVID-19 seems to be fever, Ingram said.

“It’s typically a high fever,” she said. “The second most common seems to be a dry, non-productive cough. Other symptoms are more flu-like symptoms, such as body aches and sometimes shortness of breath. Contact your health care provider by phone and use some common sense guidelines. (Your doctor) may direct you to wait, or come to their office through a separate entrance, so that you’re not mingling with the rest of the patients.”

Ingram said most people already know what they need to do to limit their exposure to the virus.

“Wash your hands multiple times a day,” she said. “If you need to go to the grocery store, if you need gas, you need to wash your hands as soon as you get back in the car. It’s a good idea to keep hand sanitizer or wipes in your car you can use to clean your hands. Same thing at home, as you come and go throughout the day, use disinfectant wipes to wipe down doorknobs and cabinet handles, anything you touch multiple times a day.”

MLMC began implementing procedures in January, when the number of COVID-19 cases in China exploded.

“About four weeks ago, we started putting masks on all our patients at every entry point to the hospital,” Ingram said. “If you walk into any of those entry points now, you will see a big sign that says ‘stop,’ and has masks for people to put on. About that time, we started looking at our supplies and what we needed to take care of the citizens of Rabun County.”

The hospital has changed procedures regarding visitors that are designed to limit exposure to the virus.

“Last Friday, the thing that people noticed is that if they come to the hospital to visit someone, they’re going to be directed to a single entrance at the emergency room lobby, and they’re going to have their temperature taken. They’re going to be asked a series of questions,” Ingram said. “If their temperature is 100.4 or greater, or if they answer yes to any of those questions, then they will not be allowed to visit patients here in the hospital. That doesn’t mean we won’t communicate with them. We will talk to them constantly and keep them updated. We want to make sure we keep people safe. We’ve had a lot of patients with the flu, and if you’re sick in the hospital with the flu, you really don’t need a lot of visitors.”

Hospital officials and staff are communicating constantly with local, state and national health officials, said Rachel Cowart, Infections Control Nurse.

“Dr. A.B. Flick is chairman of our infection control committee,” Cowart said. “We’ve worked with him on every step we take. I’ve been in constant contact with the Department of Health. I’ve received updated training. We’re meeting with our regional Emergency Management folks to make sure everything we do is in line with a pandemic situation. We are very closely following what the CDC’s guidance for health care facilities is to make sure all of our patients and staff are safe.”