As the first hospital system in the State of Mississippi to diagnose COVID-19 patients, several of our staff have been exposed. Per the CDC guidelines on 3/13/20, we asked staff members who were categorized as a high-risk exposure to quarantine at home. The decision regarding whom to quarantine is based on detailed exposure analysis under the direction of the MS State Epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers. Every staff member who had high-risk exposure as of 3/13/20 was notified.
Since this time, the CDC regulations have been updated allowing those with high risk exposure to return to work with certain precautions if they have shown no symptoms. Many states have already implemented this policy. The following was communicated today 3/14/20 from Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi State Health Officer, noting that after careful consideration and review staff may return to work with the caveats below:
- Report the onset of fever or respiratory symptoms to supervisor immediately. If these occur the employee must self-isolate and undergo clinical assessment.
- Maintain twice daily fever and symptom log (cough, difficulty breathing) at home and while at work. Fever and symptoms must be checked at start of shift.
- Wear a surgical mask during work and adhere to strict hand hygiene.
It is important to note three things:
- Exposure does not mean infection. Those that were exposed will not even be tested unless they are symptomatic.
- Not all staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 patients are at risk.
- You will be working along -side colleagues who will have a mask on. They are not contagious to you nor do you have to fear interaction. This is to take an abundance of caution, but it does not mean they are infectious.
The state reported yesterday that there have been 6 presumptive cases. Forrest Health has cared for two of these patients — one in an outpatient setting, who is isolated at home, and one as an inpatient currently in isolation. Additionally, there is a suspected case at Highland Community Hospital, who is also in inpatient isolation.
Forrest General has sent 7 cases to the state for testing with 3 more pending to be tested
on Monday. Our outlying facilities have sent 5 with 3 more pending to be tested Monday. We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.
In this time of heightened alert, it is normal to feel scared. The antidote to fear is knowledge. The antidote to this COVID-19 pandemic is our resolve to work together to care for our community.