MLHS Prepares for COVID-19

March 9, 2020

MLHS preparing for COVID-19

by Mary Rains

Mille Lacs Health System

“We have to be prepared that someone could walk in here tomorrow and need care. We need to be ready for that,” said Dr. Thomas Bracken, Infection Prevention Medical Director for Mille Lacs Health System. Bracken started the discussion with key Mille Lacs Health System staff who gathered last week to initiate an Incident Command System (ICS) to prepare a plan for Coronavirus, or COVID-19. In accordance with the National Incident Management System, ICS is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of response activities. 

The team discussed the ever-evolving situation regarding COVID-19. Patient care plans, supply chain, workforce, and Long Term Care were all on the agenda.

Dr. Bracken stated, “There is much we don’t know about this virus, but what we do know is that based on current data from other countries, it appears the death rate with this virus is higher than that of influenza. We need to take this seriously and make sure we are taking the appropriate actions to reduce spread.”

Bracken noted that the current understanding of COVID-19 suggests that most people who become infected will have mild illness and will be able to stay home. Those with serious illness may need hospital care, including respiratory support. The current data is showing 80% of the people have a mild illness, 15% will require acute care in a hospital, and 5% will need to be in intensive care. The virus appears to be spreading easily and sustainably.

 Vicki Engmark, MLHS’s Infection Preventionist, said, “Our hospital and healthcare providers are working with each other, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), The Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Central Health Preparedness Coalition. Daily and weekly updates with these agencies are ongoing. It’s important to know that with all the news out there about this, our true north is the information we get from those agencies. And their guidelines are the ones we are following.”

Engmark went on to explain that MLHS already has many of the processes in place to deal with infectious disease, since the health system has been dealing with influenza and other infectious illnesses this winter. “There are other strategies we are developing, with an elevated level of vigilance and focus. Our hospital and healthcare staff are trained to manage infectious diseases.”

COVID-19 is currently thought to be spread by person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets. Spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects is possible by touching the infected surface, then touching your face. That is why hand hygiene is the best way to prevent illness. The incubation is believed to be 2 to 14 days. Testing currently is available through the MDH.

Patients with the illness have experienced mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. To help prevent the spread of the illness: avoid close contact with someone who is sick; cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw that tissue in the trash; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces; stay home when you are sick; and wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask if you are well. If people show symptoms of COVID-19, a face mask is necessary. Save the face masks for the people who need them: the sick person and the person caring for the patient.

Kim Kucera, MLHS COO, said, "We are asking patients to call first if they feel they need to be seen for Coronavirus." A special nurse hotline with trained staff at MLHS is set up for this purpose. It's best if you have these concerns to call the number before you decide to come into the hospital or clinic, so a nurse can assess your symptoms and coordinate your care. That number is: 320-532-2989. 

 “This is an emerging disease and there is more to learn about its transmissibility, severity and other features, and what will happen as this develops,” said Bracken. “We still have influenza in our communities, so this is a challenging time. But we as a health facility need to be prepared.”