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Trinity, First District prepared for COVID-19 response

Jill Schramm/MDN Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, speaks at a news conference in City Hall. At right at Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma and Ward County Commission Chairman John Fjeldahl.

With enough test kits for a week or more, Trinity Health reported Tuesday it is prepared to meet the demand for COVID-19 testing in the region.

At a news conference in Minot City Hall, Trinity and First District Health Unit outlined where they stand in preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus locally.

Trinity has a supply of test kits that should last through this week and possibly longer, depending on testing demand, said Randy Schwan, vice president of mission integration at Trinity. The hospital had faced running out this week but has had staff travel to Bismarck, Williston and out of state to get more supply.

“We have enough to go through the week without any question. Depending on the volume at our drive-in clinic and how many people call for a test appointment, we’ll adjust accordingly. We’ll let you know when we run out. We will test as many as we can within the guidelines that have been given to us by the Department of Health. And it’s going very well at the testing site. People are patient and they are understanding. Our staff are doing a rock-solid job of getting it done under very difficult conditions,” Schwan said.

People who call for testing typically get same-day appointments, and the turnaround for results from the State Laboratory is less than 24 hours, he said. As more private laboratories become approved for testing, turnaround could become faster, he said. There is no charge to those being tested.

Schwan said Trinity had been testing 50 to 60 individuals a day, which has slowed to 30 to 50 a day.

The North Dakota Department of Health has been adjusting guidelines for whom to test to ensure there are enough kits for those most needing the testing. Those guidelines can and do change periodically. If the federal government and health agencies are able to produce a larger number of kits, the State Health Department will broaden testing guidelines, Schwan said.

“I think the state is on the same page as us that we want to test more, not less,” he said.

Ward County has had three positive cases of COVID-19. In the seven counties served by First District Health Unit, there have been 247 tests conducted in Ward, two in Renville, 14 in Bottineau, nine in McHenry, 15 in McLean, four in Burke and none in Sheridan.

Anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should call the state hotline at 1-866-207-2880 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for information on how to respond. Anyone who has traveled to another country or state and returned within the last 14 days, also should go to the Department of Health website and self report, then follow the guidance provided.

Schwan reminded residents who believe they are symptomatic or have been exposed to the virus to call 857-5000 to determine whether they are candidates for testing and, if so, to get appointments and instructions.

Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, said residents with fever of 100.4 or greater, cough or shortness of breath should contact their health-care providers. Anyone lacking a provider should call Trinity at 857-5000.

The latest guidelines call for testing in event of fever or two of the following that are worsening: cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, chills and fatigue.

Physicians continue to see patients for other medical needs.

“We’re looking at a lot of other ways to adapt to this changing situation. We are looking at telemedicine, for example, having the ability to see patients without having them come to the clinic. We are looking at phone-in appointments. We are trying to be creative,” Schwan said. “So if you have symptoms and you need to be seen, make sure you call ahead.”

Regarding masks, gowns, gloves and other medical supplies, Schwan said Trinity has maintained a supply but does seek more through its suppliers and the state emergency cache.

“We know that there’s a supply of N95 masks at a warehouse in Bismarck to be distributed to those who need it most,” he said.

“We’ve been fortunate actually in the last couple of days to have people who have been community-minded and caring bring in some N95 masks and drop them off at our facility,” he added. “We are also asking those in the community who might have more N95 masks that they’re not going to use, we would certainly take them. Our health-care providers are face-to-face with this every day. As you’ve heard, we have patients in the hospital almost steady now for the last couple of weeks with these symptoms, and we go through a lot of masks. I’m not worried about having too many masks. (If) people know where we can get some, I’d like them to call me. If they have some and they’re not using them I’d like them to bring them to us.”

Trinity has a supply of surgical masks for more general use but it seeks more. Schwan said Trinity is working with the Ward County Emergency Management Office to connect with residents interested in making and donating surgical masks. Donors are instructed to email their information to Emergency Manager Jenn Wiechmann at Jennifer.wiechmann@wardnd.com.

For groups and individuals willing to sew masks, Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts has fabric available free of charge at its store in Town & Country Mall. Other items needed to sew the masks may be purchased.

Schwan said Trinity is exploring the possibility of calling health-care retirees back into service if more staffing is ever needed. Trinity hasn’t moved to establish a backup workforce, but it is preparing to launch an initiative to put that option in place, he said.

Clute said First District is ready to assist if the medical community begins to get overwhelmed. First District can set up 100 additional beds if needed.

“This is not something that has just come out of the blue for us. We stand ready always to deal with surge capacity,” she said.

First District continues to provide limited services to the public during this time, including some immunizations and testing for tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted disease. Water testing remains available. People can drop off samples at Door B.

For guidance related to food establishments, lodging facilities, assisted living or other issues, call 852-1376.

Clute said only food and lodging have been asked to reduce services or shut down at this time. Other employers are simply asked to do what they can to assist the community in social distancing, but it is the individual’s responsibility, Clute said.

“It’s not the business’ responsibility but it’s your personal responsibility to follow those recommendations. Keep your distance at the grocery stores, local restaurants, for takeout and picking up medication,” she said. “Keep the six-foot distance between you and another person. I know you hear it over and over again, but it is truly, how we stop the spread of COVID-19.”

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