Schneck Medical Center has quarantined more than 60 employees after they were exposed to a patient who was tested and confirmed to have COVID-19, a hospital official said Monday.

All of the 63 employees have been placed on a 14-day quarantine, but some may be allowed to come back to work sooner if they have no symptoms and wear personal protective equipment, including scrubs, face masks, gloves and eyewear, at all times while at work, said Dr. Eric Fish, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Schneck.

Ten employees were identified as having low risk of exposure because they did not come in close contact with the patient, who is not from Jackson County.

"We are currently following the CDC recommended guidelines, but as those change, we’ll be making the appropriate changes to our protocol," Fish said.

Schneck is not experiencing a staffing shortage at this time due to the reduction of services including closure of outpatient clinics and postponement of elective surgeries, said Stephanie Furlow.

Schneck’s director of marketing said the reduction in services enables Schneck to redeploy many of its team members to the affected areas.

Fish gave an update on Schneck’s response to the global health crisis during a hospital board of directors meeting conducted Monday via teleconference.

Testing for COVID-19 continues to be an issue as the number of test kits available is limited statewide. Testing results are taking anywhere from 24 to 48 hours from the Indiana State Department of Health and up to eight days from a third-party lab, Fish said.

Schneck has tested 21 people with one positive case of COVID-19, who is not from Jackson County, and three negative returns. The remaining 17 tests are still pending.

"We have increased our testing in the last 24 hours with the anticipation that more testing will become available," he said.

Schneck board member and county commissioner Matt Reedy asked how COVID-19 compares to the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.

"It’s a new virus," Fish said. "I think when we went through the H1N1, I don’t think we saw the severity with mortality rate worldwide. There are some similarities, but there also are some differences. Hopefully, we look back on this in six months and say it wasn’t as bad as H1N1, but it very well could be worse."

He said health experts are still learning the characteristics of the virus, and orders and recommendations are changing on a daily basis.

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets and generally requires people to be within 6 feet of each other to spread the virus. It also is possible to get the illness by touching infected surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, ears and eyes.

"This virus does cause severe respiratory illness in some people, and because it is new and not predictable like the flu, there are currently no vaccines for COVID-19 and currently no specific antiviral treatments," Fish said.

There is some concern in the medical and scientific fields that the illness could be airborne, he added.

Symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing, appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Reported cases have ranged from mild illness, similar to a common cold, to severe pneumonia that requires hospitalization, Fish said.

"Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older patients and those with long-term conditions such as diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease," he said.

But younger patients are having issues with the illness, too.

"This is not just an elderly condition or a comorbidity," he said.

The hospital has received an outpouring of support and outreach from local businesses, individuals and schools in sharing information and supplies, Fish said.

"Recently, we had 500 N95 masks that were donated from industry here locally, which is just absolutely wonderful," he said.

Schneck is monitoring its personal protective equipment and is working with Jackson County Emergency Management Agency to secure more through the national stockpile.

"We had one delivery and are expecting another here very soon," Fish said.

Board attorney Susan Bevers said she saw on Facebook where Deaconess Hospital in Evansville put out a request for people to make face masks for it to use.

Fish said the hospital has had some prototype masks made by an individual using the Deaconess pattern. The Schneck Foundation and Development Office is going to be coordinating mask-making efforts.

"I think they will be good to use in the community, but we have to be careful," he said. "We obviously want to encourage people who want to rally around this situation to help, but we have to be cautious of what masks are being made of."

The hospital currently is not in need of personal protective equipment or masks like that, he said.

"But that’s not to say that won’t change," he said. "These could be very effective for nursing homes, as well."
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