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Hospital official: please call 911 for non-COVID-19 emergencies

By Lucia Starbuck
An ambulance crosses the Virginia Street Bridge.

Healthcare officials are worried that individuals in the community are not going to the emergency room or calling 911 if they need emergency medical care for something that isn’t related to COVID-19 in fear of being exposed to the virus. 

Shelby Hunt is the director of emergency services for Northern Nevada Medical Center. She has seen a decrease in emergency room visits and is afraid that people who are having asthma or heart attacks are remaining at home. She assured that incoming patients are rigorously screened upon entering the emergency room.

“Anytime somebody is coming to the emergency department, we are, every emergency department is immediately screening these people because we’re trying to segregate and separate those patients,” Hunt said. 

“So whether we think they have COVID-19 or it could be even allergies, if it’s anything that’s respiratory or meeting those types of symptoms, we are putting those into a separate part of the emergency department, whether that’s an alternate care site, a tent outside or in separate rooms in the ERs to keep them away from your general emergency patient population.”

Hospitals in Washoe County have the capacity to accept patients. The Nevada Hospital Association has been monitoring the infrastructure of hospitals since the pandemic started and reported that hospitalization trends have decreased over the past two weeks in Nevada.

In Washoe County, 57 percent of acute care short-term beds are available, 53 percent of intensive care unit beds are available and 40 percent of the county’s ventilators are in use.

Many hospitals, including Renown, have set up temporary triage tents to separate patients with symptoms of respiratory illness from the general hospital entrance.
Many hospitals, including Renown, have set up temporary triage tents to separate patients with symptoms of respiratory illness from the general hospital entrance. Image: Trevor Bexon

Taking care of COVID-19 patients

Hunt is extremely grateful for the many N95 masks that have been donated to Northern Nevada Medical Center from community members. Some items have been donated after people merely cleaned out their garage. She said as of right now, staff has enough personal protective equipment for the pandemic. 

Hunt also said healthcare workers on the front lines are taking extra precautions to prevent themselves and their families from getting infected.

“Obviously we’re all concerned about bringing that virus home. [We’re] putting our own measures in place, whether that’s undressing in the garage before you come home or walk in the door and showering immediately before you give your loved ones hugs and still doing what we can to social distance ourselves as much as possible,” Hunt said.

Hunt is also thankful for FaceTime and video calling capabilities that allow patients to stay in contact with their families while in the hospital. Family members are prohibited from visiting their loved ones if they are staying in the hospital due to the pandemic.

“We know as healthcare providers, having your family at the bedside is one of the most healing and reassuring things. So, that’s been a huge struggle for us. I would say most of the families and patients understand the reason we are keeping them separated is really to protect them. We’d rather plan for the worst, expect the best,” Hunt said. 

“With technology today, I mean, I can’t imagine had this happened, well it has happened historically, but in our time with the technology of FaceTime, and Google Duo, and all of those things, we have done everything that we can to ensure that patients are still able to be connected,” she continued. “We’ve even taken some patients that are stable enough down to windows so they can see their loved ones and at least visualize if they don’t have that technology.”

More testing is critical

Gov. Steve Sisolak said that more testing is required for Nevada to reopen and begin lifting restrictions. According to Washoe County Health Department Officer Kevin Dick, the governor wants to see 4,000 tests conducted per day in Nevada. 

Dick said based off of Washoe County’s population, roughly 600 residents need to be tested per day. As of right now, the Washoe County drive-thru testing site is collecting a little less than 300 tests each of the four days a week it’s open. This number doesn’t account for tests conducted at hospitals.

Washoe County Health District conducts drive-through testing for COVID-19 at the Reno-Livestock Events Center.
Workers from Washoe County Health District conduct drive-through testing for COVID-19 at the Reno-Livestock Events Center.
Image: Lucia Starbuck

“We’re making plans to be able to expand our drive-thru testing to have a more frequent schedule, perhaps daily, instead of the four days a week, and to add additional personnel and stations for collecting the tests so that we can have more people go through that process for the specimen collection. That also entails all of the personnel that we need to have and to be doing the scheduling, to be preparing all the paperwork and labels etc. for doing the testing, notifying people of the results, doing the case investigations and case contact tracking. These are all things that we’re planning for to be ramping up.

“We also hope to be able in the future to be conducting testing where we have hotspots. If we have clusters of cases that are occurring in particular facilities or some of our vulnerable population facilities, long term care, those types of settings, to have some targeted testing occur in those locations,” Dick added.

Washoe County released a map of COVID-19 cases by zip code. Dick said it’s important to know that the map indicates where someone who has tested positive resides, not where they contracted the virus.

There isn’t a lot of data available about who is getting tested for COVID-19 by Washoe County. 

This Is Reno has repeatedly asked for data on demographics of race and ethnicity of people who are filling out the risk assessment form for testing, but the release date for this information continues to be pushed back. Dick said Washoe County also won’t have information on income levels for individuals filling out the forms.

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno

UNR reports 135 COVID-19 cases

The University of Nevada, Reno on Sept. 4 reported its highest COVID-19 new case count yet: 24 students, faculty and staff.



Eric Vincent April 24, 2020 - 1:19 pm

Perhaps I read this incorrectly, but it sounds like if you have an acute asthma issue or significant allergies and you go to the emergency room, you will be exhibiting respiratory issues and be placed in the area where suspected Covid-19 patients are being held. As such, you could be exposed to and possibly contract the virus. Isn’t that why people are reluctant to go to the emergency room?

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