Six Lakeland Regional Health staff members who came into contact with a COVID-19 patient have been asked to stay isolated at home for two weeks as a precaution, Dr. Timothy Regan, the hospital’s president and chief medical officer, said at a press briefing this morning.

Video of the press briefing and the rest of the article follows:

The staffers, who include members of the registration team and “a couple of nurses,” were not necessarily exposed to coronavirus from the 88-year-old man who was transported to the hospital by Polk EMS, Regan said, “but we want to make sure that they’re safe, that our patients are safe, and the community is safe.”

During the 30-minute news conference held the day after confirmation of the first COVID-19 case disclosed to be in Lakeland, hospital executives strove to reassure the public that they are prepared to provide care for COVID-19 patients as their numbers increase.

“We are well are prepared to handle large volumes of patients in an efficient way,” Elaine Thompson said.

This morning’s 11 a.m. update from the Florida Department of Health saw the number of cases in Polk County rise from four to seven. The first one was reported Tuesday evening.

The new cases include two women ages 77 and 49 and a 74-year-old man. It is unknown if travel was involved in any of those cases.

The hospital has stepped up efforts to procure necessary equipment, Chief Operating Officer Danielle Drummond said. The number of ventilators has increased from 72 to 172 through bringing in temporary units and repurposing other equipment, she said.

She expressed confidence that the hospital will be able to procure enough facemasks to meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control standards for staff and patient safety.

Thompson noted that it’s difficult to get sufficient test kits, and said once more become available LRH plans to open a respiratory clinic and institute drive-up testing.

Dr. Regan speaks at today’s news conference

LRH has sent out 68 test kits to the Department of Health and private laboratories, Regan said. It is unknown how many results have been returned, but just the one involving the 88-year-old man came back positive.

The hospital currently has the capacity to collect samples from 900 patients, Thompson said.

Plans in the work to decrease patient visits to the hospital include implementation of telehealth and phone appointments, Drummond said. And Thompson said the hospital is working on plans to delay elective surgeries.

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Thompson responded to a question about individuals who may have been in contact with the COVID-19 patient, saying that the Florida Department of Health is “partnering with us in a very good investigation. Most of this campus is videotaped. We have the ability to go back and watch the videotape, as we are doing, to assure that we know if there was anyone who we feel was at risk, we can work with the Department of Health on that investigation.”

Regan emphasized that the disease is mild in most individuals who contract it. A slide behind him as he spoke read: “For nearly 80% of those who catch the coronavirus, the symptoms of cough and fever will be mild, similar to the common cold, and can be handled at home without ever being tested.

But the fact that it’s mild in many shouldn’t dissuade residents from practicing safe distancing and good hygiene, according to Daniel Haight, the hospital’s infectious diseases chief and a former director of the Polk County Health Department:

“Your mild infection could make another person in our community sicker than you and we are worried about the most vulnerable in our community … so if you’re mildly ill, stay home and make sure you’re following hand hygiene.”

People who have severe symptoms should call their primary care physician before coming to the hospital, the officials said. If their primary care is with LRH, call either the physicians’ office at 863-284-5000 or call 863-687-1100 and ask for the emergency room.

That way, the patient can be met at their vehicle by a staff member in protective gear, who can take the patient straight to a secure location, Thompson said.

Inside the emergency room, more space has been identified to provide respiratory care to patients showing coronavirus symptoms, officials said. As a result, some pathways into the ER and hospital may be unfamiliar to visitors, Regan said.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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