Richmond hospital leaders address biggest challenges during coronavirus outbreak with Northam


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam met with health leaders at Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital to discuss the coronavirus outbreak. Northam updated the staff on the number of cases in Virginia.

“Today we are at 29, so we essentially doubled overnight,” Gov. Northam said. Yesterday, there were 17 positive cases and the Virginia Department of Health has reported 30 cases as of Friday afternoon.

Leaders at the hospital said their biggest challenge right now is accessing test kits and getting results quickly.

“In the state of Virginia, or least in the Richmond area, hospital emergency rooms are really the only place where screening is occurring. That isn’t necessarily the best place for everyone to be. Ideally, we’d like to have some ambulatory sites that can do screening,” Hospital President Leigh Sewell told Gov. Northam.

“Having community testing outside of hospitals will allow emergency departments to stay open for our most vulnerable populations,” added Dr. Tina Latimer, Director of Emergency Services at the hospital.

Sewell said if a patient presents with symptoms in their emergency room, doctors will first rule out other illnesses like the flu. If doctors think the patient may need to be screened for COVID-19, they will call the Virginia Department of Health, who will direct the hospital to test the patient for coronavirus if the patient meets certain criteria.

“Right now, a lot of people are going home and not being tested. If there were more tests available, I think that would probably change,” Sewell said.

Northam said the state is working on improving testing for patients with potential coronavirus.

“We’ve been dissatisfied with what we’ve heard at the national level and that’s why we’re taking it into our own hands in Virginia. We have the Virginia Department of Health that we’re testing now through, but we also have private companies that we’re working with. LabCorp and Quest are two of those. And then we’re also working with our universities, University of Virginia, VCU right here in Richmond, to really design and have our own testing available right here in Virginia so we don’t have to rely on it so much at the national level,” said Northam.

The governor added that making sure there is enough staffing and equipment are other issues hospitals are facing. Northam said equipment like ventilators may become more in-demand.

“That’s one of the discussions that we just had, if we need other equipment, to be able to get that from areas that don’t necessarily need it, even from other states. And also to pull staff from other states, so that’s what were working on,” he said.

When asked about closing schools statewide — a move Northam ultimately decided to do — the governor was initially said the decision was up to specific localities.

“Right now as we stand here, we’re letting our localities through their superintendents, through their local health departments make that decision but if this continues to spread rapidly and depending on where we’re seeing the spread, we may have to make different decisions,” Northam said.

For more coronavirus coverage, click here.

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