SITKA – The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Incident Command System (ICS) reconvened Wednesday to share information and update protocols in advance of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) potentially reaching Southeast. Late Thursday, March 12, State of Alaska Governor Dunleavy announced the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Alaska. SEARHC remains proactive in responding with increased test availability, updated screening criteria, and additional COVID-19 patient education.
“Details of COVID-19 are constantly emerging,” said SEARHC Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl. “It is important that SEARHC is in possession of the most-recent information to identify and treat cases, should they present themselves. This requires open lines of communication with healthcare organizations and updating protocols not just daily, but in most cases hourly.”
SEARHC facilities have taken steps to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 contact to patients and long-term care residents. All facilities have limited points of entry, with signage posted to clearly direct patients and visitors to designated entrances. Visiting hours are limited to 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. until further notice, with all visitors of long-term care locations required to participate in a brief health screening.
“Our clinics and hospitals remain open to meet the healthcare needs of all our patients. We encourage patients to continue to access care at our facilities,” said Bruhl. “Our efforts to screen patients before they enter ensures that our facilities remain a safe location to receive care.”
Supplies for the Alaska State COVID-19 test are being distributed to all SEARHC clinical locations, with results available within 48-72 hours. State tests will be supplemented with test kits from LabCorp in the coming days to meet potential demands. For testing, patients must be symptomatic, displaying a fever and cough, or shortness of breath, in addition to meeting exposure risk criteria. These criteria now include travel to areas in the U.S. with significant outbreak occurrence, such as Wash., Calif., or N.Y., as well as recent travel to China, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Iran, or any exposure to a confirmed case.
Avoiding close contact with ill persons remains the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) preferred action to prevent the contracting of any virus, followed closely by avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth. The CDC also recommends the continued practice of everyday preventive methods to deter potential contraction of COVID-19, including washing your hands thoroughly and often; covering of coughs and sneezes; cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects; and getting a flu shot. SEARHC continues to recommend that patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or immune compromise should contact their doctor immediately if they become ill, while healthy people should stay home if they become sick.
In an effort to consolidate information on the novel coronavirus and increase patient access to the latest information, SEARHC launched the web page covid19.searhc.org. Patients are encouraged to share and visit covid19.searhc.org daily for updates from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the CDC, relevant news articles, frequently asked questions, and quick access to contact information for all SEARHC primary care facilities.
For health questions or concerns outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse.