Essentia Health, St. Luke's offering coronavirus testing

Essentia Health, St. Luke's offering coronavirus testing

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: March 12, 2020 06:40 PM

Four new cases of Covid-19 in Minnesota were confirmed Thursday, bringing the total number to nine.


Hospitals have been swamped with patients concerned about having the rapidly spreading virus. St. Luke's and Essentia Health in Duluth are doing Coronavirus testing but said they have a very strict screening process since the supply of testing is limited. The supply of testing is controlled by the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Once we start seeing it here and start seeing it being community spread, our hope is our ability to test will change. There are a series of biotech companies that are developing tests that will then allow us to screen more actively," said Dr. Nick Van Deelen, the St. Luke's chief medical officer.

That's why hospitals are only testing those who are ill and really deemed at risk of the Coronavirus, like the elderly or those with underlying heart and lung diseases.

If patients show signs of fever, respiratory symptoms and have a recent travel history in countries with high exposure of the coronavirus, they are considered for testing.

The hospitals swab patients and send it to the Minnesota Department of Health where they perform the test. Results usually come back within 48 hours.

St. Luke's and Essentia Health doctors said they're ready to respond if a case is confirmed in the Northland.

"We do have a plan in place to treat those appropriately. If we suspect someone has coronavirus, we may send them home and tell them to self isolate for at least 14 days or until their symptoms resolve. If we feel they need higher levels of care, we would admit them to the hospital," said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, the Essentia Health infectious disease physician.

"Most of the care for the Coronavirus seems to be predominately supportive. There are some antiviral therapies that are being looked at. There's not a vaccine, but we are fully capable and prepared to provide care for those patients," said Dr.Van Deelen. 

Dr. Van Deelen reminds community members that for now, there's no evidence of Coronavirus activity in Duluth and Superior. Doctors say 80 percent of Coronavirus cases are mild and a smaller percentage are moderate or severe.

Doctors recommend people with questions and concerns to call their healthcare provider and check healthcare organization websites.

"People's concern shouldn't be heightened because it's been considered a pandemic. Certainly we have to keep track of what the community's spread of coronavirus is in the region. At the moment, we've just had a very few number of cases, but it's certainly most likely to spread in different communities," said Dr. Prabhu.

Doctors also say its important people practice hand hygiene, avoid touching your face, and unnecessary travel and large gatherings of people from different areas.

"There is a time frame before you develop symptoms that theoretically you could transmit it to someone else, but if you stay at least six feet away you would be less likely," said Dr. Prabhu.

Hospitals are also taking extra protective measures. St. Luke's recently installed hand sanitizers in the elevators and Essentia Health has signs posted across the hospital warning patients about testing. Some events scheduled at the hospitals have been cancelled as well.

"We've had an active process of evaluating supplies, making sure we have what we need to protect patients and staff. There's nationwide shortages in regards to personal protective equipment. We are working to try and mitigate shortages as best we can. We are being very prudent about how those different materials are dispersed throughout organizations," said Dr. Van Deelen.

Dr. Van Deelen said they've had situations where patients and staff are taking a number of masks and other personal protective equipment from clinics. They ask people to not do that since they are trying to allocate those resources for high risk settings.

Doctors also want people to be mindful that there's still high influenza activity and say it's more likely that people may be diagnosed with the seasonal flu instead of Covid19. That's why they encourage folks to contact their healthcare providers to see what steps they need to take.


Alejandra Palacios

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