Excela Health is preparing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to hit Westmoreland County soon.

Chief medical officer Dr. Carol Fox told WTAE-TV (Channel 4) that the health system has tested patients, with some test results still pending. So far there have been no confirmed cases in Westmoreland County.

“I suspect it’ll be sooner rather than later, but I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you whether it will be hours or days,” Fox told the news station Wednesday.

Coronavirus tests are in short supply, and only administered based on strict guidelines that prioritize testing those who have recently traveled or who are especially at risk of contracting the disease.

“Our reorders are slow coming in, and some of them are back-ordered, so the number of tests available are diminishing somewhat, consistent with test capabilities across the country,” Fox told WTAE-TV.

Excela is sending its test samples to private companies for testing, with an average turnaround time of three to five days for results, according to Fox.

Although no one in the county has tested positive for the virus yet, Fox said testing limitations mean it’s possible that undiagnosed cases exist here.

“I think that’s why following the instructions set forth by the CDC, the federal government and our state government are so important,” Fox said.

With the supply of testing kits limited, it will likely be weeks before health systems are able to administer tests to everyone showing coronavirus symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Excela Health and other western Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems have altered visitation policies in response to the outbreak.

“The health and safety of our patients and visitors is a top priority at Excela Health,” according to an announcement issued Monday by the health system. “We understand how important the support of loved ones and friends is to patients during their hospital stay. At the same time, the new coronavirus requires us to temporarily adjust our visiting policy in order to keep our patients and visitors safe from infection.”

Excela is asking anyone who has a cough or shows other signs of illness not to enter its hospital buildings. In cases of “an emergent need,” for someone who is ill to visit the hospital, they should see a hospital employee to obtain a mask.

“It is important that individuals who are ill contact their PCP [primary care physician] for guidance,” according to the announcement. “It is only appropriate for individuals to present to the emergency department if they believe are having acute life threatening conditions.

“Presenting to the emergency room with mild symptoms taxes our resources and only serves to expose yourself and others to multiple types of infectious conditions.”

Excela advises contacting primary care physicians for advice and following these precautions: Cover your cough/sneeze; avoid touching your face; practice great hand washing; practice social distancing (maintaining at least six feet between yourself and others); and frequently clean high touch surfaces.

The health system is also limiting the number of visitors permitted in patient areas. In the emergency department, visitors will be limited to one adult in patient areas, and one visitor will be permitted per patient in other areas of Excela’s hospitals.

For obstetric patients (new or laboring mothers), one visitor is permitted. That visitor must be the only visitor throughout the course of the admission.

One person is allowed to accompany each patient to an appointment, unless an aide or assistant is required.

“Excela Health provides free Wi-Fi service and encourages those visitors to connect with loved ones to do so remotely through digital channels such as Facetime instead of an in-person visit,” the health system advised.

Updated information and alerts are available at www.ExcelaHealth.org. Excela has also instituted guidelines regarding outside vendors.

“Out of an abundance of caution and in order to protect our patients and staff, we are asking our employees and visitors who are placing food orders meet their vendors in the lobby of our Excela Heath facilities to obtain their orders,” according to the announcement. “For floral shops that deliver gifts to patients, please bring flowers to the front desk at any of our locations and we will ensure that the patient receives them.”

Updated information and alerts are available at www.ExcelaHealth.org.

Excela has also instituted guidelines regarding outside vendors for food, flowers and other items making deliveries to the hospitals.

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