Quicker testing means better preparedness for Emanuel as COVID-19 tally grows

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by HALEI LAMB

According to Damien Scott, Emanuel County is ahead of the game right now in terms of preparedness for coronavirus. His statement to The Blade Tuesday morning comes after the opening of a local COVID clinic and quicker testing. This should be welcomed news by the community in spite of the total cases growing to 3, according to the Department of Public Health’s website just before 3 p.m. on April 7. [Update: This number remains the same on that website as of Wednesday, April 8, at 9:30 a.m.]

“We have significantly improved testing in Emanuel County effective last week,” Scott began. “One of the problems we and almost all hospitals in Georgia were having was that we were trying to utilize Quest and LabCorp, which were the established and initially recommended ways to go outside the state lab. Unfortunately, those labs had 70,000 priority specimens, so the backlog was too great. It was taking us 10 to 12 days to get a result back. Last week, however, we partnered with Augusta University and a lab out of Atlanta, Life Hope. We’re now able to get results back in less than 2 days. That is significantly better.”

Scott warns about the publicity regarding immediate tests that offer results in 15 to 30 minutes. Reportedly, there are not enough free agents to go around for those. Additionally, the dependability of those tests has yet to be determined, given how new they are. The CEO of the local hospital is absolutely confident in the tests currently being offered here at home, though.

In addition to quicker testing, the hospital has set up a COVID clinic testing site. This particular location operates out of the Meadows building at the corner of Kite Highway and Church Street. Scott says if any individual is remotely concerned about symptoms they may have, those people should call their physicians. Every physician in Swainsboro has the ability to do telemedicine. They can send an order over to the COVID clinic, which all local physicians know how to do. If someone needs testing, he or she will be asked to drive to the site and a medical professional will come outside to perform the test. After that, the individual will be instructed to go home and act as if they’ve been quarantined.

“This part is vitally important,” Scott says. “There should be no to very little visitors. If you have to have visitors, they should just be over to drop off groceries and so on. Quarantining is how we slow this down.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Emanuel Medical Center alone has tested 32 people. Only two of those thus far have been positive while another 10 are awaiting results. These numbers, according to Scott, are not a wholesome look at Emanuel’s overall numbers.

“You’re going to hear different numbers for a while. It takes a few days for the Department of Public Health’s site to update. My numbers are going to sound different, but it’s not that we’re telling a story. It’s just that my numbers are only indicative of the testing and cases related to Emanuel Medical Center.”

Expanding on this, Scott says if a person goes to East Georgia Healthcare Center, a doctor in Statesboro, a drive-through testing site in Augusta, or anywhere other than EMC, those cases will not automatically be reflected by the hospital. Eventually, however, there will be a cumulative list, but such a list does not exist at this time.

No matter the list, Scott is certain that our local number is going to grow—but that’s not to sound the alarm. “We know our number is going to increase for two reasons. First, we know the disease is spreading. Secondly, my guess is that by the end of the week, we will have tested 60 people instead of 30-something. That’s a good thing because we want to know who has it. That in itself is going to make it easier to fight this thing.”

As panic abounds, the public can find solace in three points: the safety of a doctor’s office, the advancements being made daily to combat coronavirus, and a well-staffed local hospital ready to act.

“What’s happening now is everybody is so afraid to go to the doctor for anything! Actually, the doctor is a pretty safe place to go,” Scott said, “but again, if you have any concerns or if you’re worried you have COVID-19, call your doctor. They can do a telemedicine visit. It’s super easy. We can do it via a FaceTime-type thing, but if you don’t have a smartphone, we can also do a phone call. If you qualify, meaning if you meet certain criteria, you’ll be sent to the COVID clinic. We’ll test you and go from there.”

Faster testing is just one of the indicators of how the coronavirus response has progressed since its early days. Scott says his position in the medical field lends to him a first-hand account of the intelligent scientists who are working every day to improve the fight.

He also says that Emanuel is “ahead of the game” right now, thanks to the opening of the COVID clinic. This was done at will by the hospital in an attempt to go above and beyond what the general recommendations are at this time.

He was not at liberty Tuesday to disclose if anyone had been hospitalized locally due to coronavirus, but he wants the public to know the workers of Emanuel Medical Center are prepared for the future, no matter what it brings.

“Don’t be afraid if you have to come to the hospital if you’re sick. Even if we have COVID here, we’ve got isolation rooms, we’ve got people in gowns, we've got masks, we’re checking everyone as thoroughly as possible,” he said. “What we know about this disease is that it is spread through droplets. In order to catch it, you have to be right up next to someone who has it and that’s just not happening. There will come a time when we have people in this hospital and Lord forbid lots of folks. I don’t want the community to be scared by that, though. This is what we do! We’ve had all kinds of infectious people here before, and I’ve announced before that we’ve had no infections in the past because we did managed those patients well. We isolated them, we cleaned their rooms, we gown up, we clean up afterward. That is what’s going to enable us to do well with this, too.”

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