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With virus cases limited to 'hot spots,' Avera Queen of Peace is mostly business as usual

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A general view of Avera Queen of Peace hospital in Mitchell. (Republic file photo)

The forecast on the projected COVID-19 pandemic surge in South Dakota has shifted.

The state is still expected to hit its peak in active cases in the coming weeks, but it is no longer expected to be a widespread wave that blankets all of South Dakota, according to Avera Queen of Peace Regional President and CEO Tom Clark.

After concerns over conserving personal protective equipment and assuring adequate available bed space closed Avera hospitals for non-COVID and emergency procedures on March 25, the hospital has reopened for elective procedures, while Avera announced visitors would be allowed one per patient on May 22.

Not only is the hospital stocked with PPE, but Clark believes that it can shift back to a focus on COVID patients should Davison County experience a surge. Clark told the Mitchell Republic the hospital is "pretty much back to what we were doing before COVID."

“Early on, it was our belief that it would be a widespread surge and I think what we’re seeing is localized hot spots,” Clark said. “So, it’s how you manage the localized hot spots. At this point, Davison County is not a hot spot. We have begun doing those diagnostic tests. We still screen all staff every day they come to the hospital, we screen all patients and will continue to do so.”

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Davison County has managed to stay relatively unscathed by the virus, with 20 total positive cases and 10 recovered, through Thursday, which Clark attributes to diligence from residents in social distancing and wearing face masks.

Nearby Jerauld and Aurora counties have dealt with increased case counts, with total cases of 38 (13 active) and 27 (12 active), respectively. Clark also stated Beadle County is being monitored after accumulating 308 cases (112 recovered), the second-highest total in the state behind Minnehaha County.

While the virus does not appear to impose an imminent threat, Clark cautioned that it could still occur. The hospital’s incident command team is also still meeting twice per week to help prepare for any threat of a surge.

Most procedures, such as knee or hip replacements, do not require long-term stays in the hospital, which helps reshape the bed capacity if a surge in COVID-19 cases arrives in Mitchell during the coming weeks.

All entering hospitals -- staff included -- are required to wear a face mask and will be screened for symptoms upon arrival. Patients undergoing procedures that require intubation will be tested for COVID-19 three days prior and will be screened once again at the hospital.

“We’re going to have to live with the virus for a while,” Clark said. “The best scenarios I’ve heard for a vaccine is 12 to 18 months. How do we live with COVID? That’s part of us going ahead and doing the regular work that needs to be done. We’re also dealing with the virus at the same time. If we see a spike in Mitchell, within Davison County, and we see a number of patients needing to be hospitalized, we could shut off the spigot for elective procedures and testing virtually overnight.”

Along with a now adequate supply of PPE and beds, another reason for reopening for elective surgeries has been an uptick in cases of people with chronic issues that did not come to the hospital to be treated during the shutdown.

Clark has heard of cases with patients that suffer from heart issues, but did not come to the hospital, resulting in a worsening condition.

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“Just because we’re dealing with COVID doesn’t mean other health issues aren’t still present and don’t need to be addressed,” Clark said. “We encourage people, if you’ve got an issue, call your provider. If it’s an urgent issue, come to the emergency room so it can be taken care of.”

Clark believes some would-be patients did not opt to visit the hospital for non-COVID emergencies is the stigma of having an increased chance of being exposed to the virus. With limited case numbers and the majority having recovered, Clark does not want people to be afraid to enter the hospital.

“You don’t have to be afraid to come to the hospital,” Clark said. “We haven’t had a large number of patients and all the patients we have had have been handled appropriately. It’s a safe environment and we want people to come in.”

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUS
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