WHEELING, W.Va. — As the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on Tuesday evening by Gov. Jim Justice, Wheeling Hospital is set to be among the state’s first drive-through symptomatic testing center for the virus.
The hospital announced the drive-through swab tests will be conducted in emergency medical tents set up in the Wheeling Park parking lot, near the pool, beginning on Wednesday morning at 10.
The regional center will handle patients from all of the area’s hospitals in the WVU Medicine System including Harrison Community, Reynolds Memorial in Glen Dale, Barnesville (Ohio), and the Wetzel Community.
According to Wheeling Hospital CEO Douglass Harrison, nurses and lab personnel from Wheeling Hospital will be on-site, assisted by staff from Barnesville and Reynolds Memorial hospitals.
However, Harrison told MetroNews they want to avoid testing just any person because of the number of tests available.
He said as of Tuesday, the hospital has the capability for 400 tests through vendors Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp.
“I want to emphasize that if you are regular public and just think you’re going to have a test done because you don’t feel well, that is what we want to avoid,” Harrison told MetroNews.
“This is for people who are showing signs of potential exposure or showing the signs of COVID. Right now those include a cough, fever and shortness of breath or travel to an endemic area or contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.”
To be tested in Wheeling use the hospital’s COVID-19 one-call number at 304-221-3995. WVU Medicine sites testing sites are also opening in Martinsburg, Bridgeport, Morgantown, and Parkersburg.
From there, nurse navigators will triage the patient over the phone. If it is determined through the call that the patient is symptomatic, that person’s name will be sent to the Testing Center and the order entered into the computer list, according to the hospital.
Patients may elect to call a primary care physician, or a hospital-employed physician will follow the triage protocol then decide whether to send the patients to the Testing Center, where the order will be placed.
The hospital said at the test site entrance, an identification of the patient will be requested to verify that the patient’s testing order has been entered. Next, consent forms will have to be signed and the patient is tested for Influenza A and B, as well as strep throat and other more common illnesses.
If a patient tests positive for one of those illnesses, that person will be directed to return home and call their primary care provider for further instructions. If the results come back negative, the patient then will be tested for COVID-19.
Wheeling Hospital will then send any positive tests for COVID-19 to Quest Diagnostics, a private testing firm, and the results will go to the person’s primary care provider.
Until results are received by the physician, the patient will be instructed to return home to self-quarantine for 14 days, a release said. If the results come back negative, the self-quarantine will be lifted. If positive, treatment will be determined by the physician.
Harrison said the next two weeks are critical to flattening the curve of the virus as testing ramps up. He said the hospital is doing everything in its power to stop the spread including limiting visitors and following the CDC guidelines.
“You do not want this spike of potential patients and inundating the hospitals,” he said. “There are just not enough critical care beds, not only at Wheeling but across the country, in order to manage what could happen if the worst scenario happens.”
For Wheeling Hospital, Harrison said the worst-case scenario would be more than 270 patients. He said that number is the “max out” and would require “drastic measures” to manage the influx.
One scenario in that case for the hospital would be to move patients to local facilities. Harrison told MetroNews that officials have created a Search Capacity Watch List.
“In the event of a disaster situation, East Ohio Regional right now is an alternative site that we could look at potentially in a disaster, crisis situation of moving patients. OVMC, that physical structure, I don’t think could be up and running in time,” he said.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has asked the White House about a possible waiver for the state that would allow hospitals more flexibility in the way beds can be used with this outbreak.
She told MetroNews that the waiver, which was granted to the state of Florida Tuesday, allows, among other things, hospitals to use beds differently when it comes to Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements.
Of note, Harrison said Wheeling Hospital receives 40-percent of its volume from Ohio residents. The Buckeye State has taken drastic measures in the past week, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climb there.
The testing sites under the WVU Medicine umbrella will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Also assisting will be the Wheeling-Ohio Health Department, Wheeling Police and Fire departments, as well as the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency.