As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, St. Mary's is urging everyone in Northeast Georgia to protect themselves, their families, and especially those most vulnerable, from exposure to this illness.
"By following simple guidelines, people can reduce their own risk of contracting the disease and slow its spread to others," said Jason Smith, MD, St. Mary's Chief Medical Officer. "We are prepared to respond to the disease and are working closely with state and federal authorities to monitor the latest information and recommendations."
Dr. Smith emphasized that St. Mary's is following recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Hospital Association, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). As part of Trinity Health, St. Mary's also has access to the expertise and resources of Trinity Health's nationwide Catholic healthcare system.
All parts of St. Mary's are working to protect patients, colleagues, providers, residents, visitors, and the community as a whole. St. Mary's includes St. Mary's Hospital in Athens, St. Mary's Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia, St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital in Greensboro, St. Mary's Medical Group, St. Mary's Home Health Care/Hospice Services, numerous outpatient centers, and St. Mary's Highland Hills Village retirement community.
Key components of St. Mary's efforts include:
- Constant monitoring of guidance from CDC, DPH and Trinity Health, with system-wide conference calls three times a day to maximize internal communication and coordination.
- Daily updates to providers and colleagues with critical information.
- Additional training for colleagues and providers about infection control and prevention measures.
- Restrictions on visitation to protect colleagues and patients. Currently, only one visitor is allowed at a time per patient, and no one under 14 or who is sick is permitted to visit. Visitor hours are now limited (5 AM to 7 PM at St. Mary's; 6 AM to 7 PM at Sacred Heart and Good Samaritan), and visitors may use only the front entrances during the day and the Emergency Department entrance after hours. All visitors are being screened for signs of illness.
- Conservation measures are in place for critical supplies. Also, St. Mary's is working closely with Trinity Health and vendors to secure additional supplies should the need arise.
- Continued testing, in conjunction with designated commercial labs, when patients with symptoms meet criteria. Due to limited testing ability nationwide, screening of people without symptoms or whose symptoms are mild is not available at this time, per CDC recommendations.
Reliable, up-to-date information about COVID-19 can be found at the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) or the Georgia Department of Public Health website at www.dph.georgia.gov. St. Mary's offers additional information at www.stmaryshealthcaresystem.org.
According to the CDC, most COVID-19 cases are mild to moderate and are best treated with rest and fluids while staying home. However, the disease poses more serious risks for some people, including older adults; people with underlying health conditions such as heart failure or chronic lung diseases such as COPD; and those with a weakened immune system.
"An extremely important part of these preventive efforts is protecting the vulnerable people among us," Dr. Smith said. "By reducing the spread of COVID-19 among healthy people, we raise the level of protection for people at high risk."
Here are key guidelines from the CDC to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and the community:
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. If using a tissue, throw it away immediately and wash or sanitize your hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19. For example, avoid crowds and large events, don't shake hands or give hugs as greetings, and stay at least six feet away from others.
Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection are similar to those of the flu: fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. In serious cases, the patient may have trouble breathing. Difficulty breathing may be a medical emergency: call 911 and mention your symptoms. If you self-transport to the Emergency Department, call ahead so that the staff can treat you appropriately and safely when you arrive.
If you feel sick:
- Stay home except to get medical care.
- Avoid public places. Do not go to work, school, restaurants or other public areas.
- Avoid public transportation, including ride-sharing or taxis.
- Separate yourself from other people in your home. To the extent possible, stay in one room and use a separate bathroom.
- Minimize your contact with pets and animals.
- Avoid sharing personal household items such as dishes, cups, utensils, towels and bedding. Wash them after use.
- If you have a medical appointment, call ahead and let them know you may have COVID-19.
- Clean and disinfect "high-touch" surfaces at least daily.
- Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor if symptoms worsen.