Augusta Health starts call center, opens respiratory assessment center

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV)— On Thursday, Augusta Health announced two new initiatives to continue to address concerns about the coronavirus in the area: a call center and a respiratory assessment center.

WHSV file image of Augusta Health Emergency Room

In just the time since the hospital made the announcement Thursday morning, by mid-afternoon Thursday, the hospital had already fielded more than 60 calls to the new call center and seen more than 50 patients at the new assessment center.

Call center

They started a call center where people can call with any questions about COVID-19 and their symptoms. Currently, the call center is open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The phone number is 540-332-5122.

Augusta Health said the center is staffed with clinician nurses, who can help with questions people may have.

Respiratory assessment center

The hospital has also created a respiratory assessment center at their urgent care office in Waynesboro at 201 Lew Dewitt Boulevard.

That center will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.

They are diverting all other care, like sprains and deep cuts, to their Staunton, Stuarts Draft and Weyers Cave locations. You can see wait times and reserve appointments at those centers online.

While the Waynesboro urgent care center is not a testing site, people can come to have any respiratory symptoms evaluated. That will allow doctors to determine if a patient needs to be tested.

Know where to seek care

Currently, they are doing some testing for COVID-19 at Augusta Health. Doctors said they have not had any positive cases, but based on the spread and pockets of the virus, they are fully anticipating that it will come to the Augusta County area eventually.

As of Thursday, the closest cases were one in Harrisonburg, one in Albemarle County, and three in Charlottesville.

Doctors are advising people to stay alert and monitor their symptoms. Fevers of at least 100.4 and a dry cough are usually some of the first symptoms of the coronavirus, according to doctors at Augusta Health, but for testing, you'll need those symptoms and either contact with someone who's tested positive for the virus or travel to an affected area.

Doctors advise people to come to the emergency room if they're very ill, but if people have concerns, they can call the hotline and receive guidance from a nurse.

Augusta Health said they are prepared for anyone who becomes sick in the area, but not everyone needs to be seen in the Emergency Department if they can be treated elsewhere. That's why they encourage calling their call center to determine the appropriate place you should seek care.

The hospital released this infographic on when you should seek care:

When to Seek Care

The hospital previously released the rundown below of what screening and testing mean:

What is screening? What is testing?

There is much confusion in the community about screening and testing for COVID-19.

Screening for COVID-19 is a series of questions asked to determine a person’s risk for COVID-19. They include questions about symptoms being experience, travel history in recent weeks, and exposure to someone who has been confirmed to have COVID-19. Right now, all entrants to Augusta Health (patients, support persons) are screened.

After screening and consulting with Virginia Department of Health and CDC guidelines and directives, the decision is made on whether or not a person should be tested.

Can I be tested?

As mentioned in Governor Northam’s update today, there are two main reasons someone would be tested for the coronavirus: having symptoms or exposure to an infected person. These are not Augusta Health established criteria for testing; they are the same criteria used by all hospitals within Virginia.

The main symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. These look a lot like the flu and the common cold, so it takes a physician to determine if testing for the virus is necessary. Those at higher risk—such as people over the age of 60 or with an underlying medical condition—might be considered for testing when others without those high risk factors may not.

Those who don’t meet testing criteria are encouraged to stay home and continue to follow the recommended CDC preventions such as covering coughs and sneezes; not sharing household items such as glasses, dishes and bed linens; cleaning high touch surfaces like doorknobs and counters often; and washing hands frequently. People in this category should also monitor symptoms and call their healthcare provider if symptoms worsen. Once symptom-fever-free for 72 hours, social contact can be resumed.

Community anxiety and confusion have been created by an article posted by the Staunton News Leader today. To help everyone understand the process, we’ve answered this question:

Why are some tested for COVID-19 and others—perhaps in the same family—are not?

From David Fosnocht, MD, Augusta Health Emergency Department:

In an ideal situation, we would like to be able to test all patients for COVID-19. Because the supplies of test kits are severely limited, and because that supply changes on a daily basis, we need to manage and triage these resources very carefully.

When the testing process for COVID-19 began, we were testing only through Virginia Department of Health, who has very strict criteria. We continue to use the Virginia Department of Health testing lab, and on Friday, March 13, we also started using the Quest commercial lab for COVID-19 testing. However, using commercial labs has not necessarily increased the supply of tests. The Quest COVID-19 testing facility is located in California, which translates to a four to five-day turnaround time for pending results. On Monday, March 16, we learned that Quest is building out their testing facility in Chantilly, Virginia, for COVID-19 testing, but do not know when that facility will be operational.

For deciding who gets tested, we have an algorithm to use to determine those in highest need of the test based on severity of symptoms, number of high-risk factors and availability of test kits. When multiple members of the same family have the same symptoms, healthcare providers generally test the sickest member of the family, recognizing that if one family member has the infection, the rest of the family members most likely have the same infection. We use the same practice with other upper respiratory infections such as the flu. This not only conserves tests, it saves the family money.