FAQ: Some questions asked locally on COVID-19

Registered nurse Erin Kurk screens a patient arriving at the east entrance of the Blessing Health Center on Monday, March 16, 2020. A screening process and limited access points are part of the precautions Blessing Health System is taking to combat the coronavirus. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 21, 2020 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 21, 2020 11:55 pm

Many questions continue to be asked regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The Blessing Health System and Quincy Medical Group provided some of the most frequently asked questions providers have been hearing in recent weeks.

What is "flattening the curve" all about in coronavirus crisis?

"Flattening the curve" is a concept developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It demonstrates why preventive measures, such as social distancing, staying home from work and school when sick, proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, should be followed. The why is to preserve health care resources. Hospitals locally and coast-to-coast are still treating patients during a very active flu season, in addition to the normal vehicle accidents, heart attacks, strokes and other emergencies that occur every hour of every day. Adding even a mild coronavirus outbreak to that mix could cause the health care system to experience demand that cannot be met. However, if preventive measures are followed that lead to "flattening the curve" of demand on health care systems, hospital beds, supplies and healthy caregivers can be preserved for those who need them.

What do I do if I am feeling sick?

The first steps are to:

1. Call your primary health care provider to determine your next step in receiving care.

2. If you do not have a PCP, call either the Blessing Health System hotline at 217-277-3504 or the QMG hotline at 217-277-4001 to have a health care provider help you determine if you need medical attention and if so, the best place to do that.

The QMG hotline is operational the same hours as the QMG Ambulatory Care Center: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Outside of these hours, QMG will partner with Blessing to automatically roll over calls to the Blessing hotline. In some cases, patients may be sent directly to the hospital hotline.

3. For general questions about coronavirus, visit blessinghealth.org/coronavirus, quincymedgroup.com/coronavirus, or cdc.gov.

People not experiencing what they would consider to be life-threatening symptoms of any illness or injury should avoid going to the Blessing Hospital Emergency Center and use the steps outlined above. That will help preserve Emergency Center availability and resources for those who are critically ill.

Are coronavirus tests available in Quincy?

Yes, they are. However, coronavirus testing will be done by Quincy area health care providers only if medically warranted as per federal CDC guidelines.

How has Blessing prepared to handle coronavirus?

For the past two months, Blessing Health System's Infection Prevention team and other hospital leaders met frequently to prepare to safely identify, isolate and care for patients who meet the latest CDC criteria for COVID-19 testing. Those meetings have moved to twice-a-day, as this is a rapidly evolving situation, to allow the health system to monitor the latest developments in real time and update procedures and policies as necessary.

Results of the planning include the establishment of a free-standing Flu-Like Illness Screening Center at 2808 Chestnut, creation of a public hotline for coronavirus questions, placing a tent in the Emergency Center parking lot to screen people with flu-like systems who present to the Emergency Center and institution of visitor restrictions at the Hospital and its provider offices to protect patients, the public and staff.

How has QMG prepared to handle coronavirus?

QMG has been working with healthcare providers and facilities throughout our region, taking all necessary precautions in coordination with the CDC and our local health departments. The following measures have been implemented:

A COVID-19 Hotline, which is staffed with a trained clinical team to screen and evaluate patients, has been established. This number is 217-277-4001.

All QMG facilities have implemented screening processes at entrances to screen patients and visitors throughout QMG business hours. This individual will screen patients for fever (take temperatures), cough, respiratory symptoms, and/or shortness of breath. If patients have symptoms or have a temperature, we will ask them to return to their cars and call our QMG Hotline (217-277-4001) for additional screening.

The Pediatric Walk-In department has converted to appointment only to ensure that all patients are screened before they arrive. Pediatrics also recommends that patients call when they arrive for remote check-in, and patients may be asked to wait in the car until exam rooms are available to avoid waiting room exposure.

Telehealth is now being offered at QMG allowing patients to visit their health care providers virtually. Patients may be seen for any diagnosis, not just COVID-19 related concerns. Telehealth can be delivered via video conference, smartphone, or landline phone call.

Intensivists and hospital-based physicians are meeting with teams of providers to be prepared to meet the needs of those patients requiring more intensive hospital care. They are studying the experience of China and foreign countries as well as physicians in Washington State where valuable experience can be shared.

Oncologists have met and developed protocols to meet the special needs of cancer patients to keep them safe and maintain treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Our lab is working to accelerate the ability for local testing with a more rapid turn-around time for test results. Pending FDA approval we will be ready on our end.

Can I still come to my appointments?

QMG has taken extra measures and precautions to ensure QMG remains a safe and healthy place for our patients. However, for the next two weeks we have elected to limit non-urgent office visits performed in person. For patients who are experiencing flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, call QMG's COVID-19 hotline, which is staffed with a trained clinical team to screen and evaluate patients. This number is 217-277-4001.

Anyone with a Blessing Physician Services provider appointment is getting a call from the provider prior to the appointment. A member of the provider's office staff asks them about their symptoms.

If they are experiencing no symptoms of the virus, they are offered the opportunity to come in for their regularly scheduled appointment or reschedule. Some providers are also offering virtual visits to patients.

If they are experiencing virus symptoms, they are transferred to a health care provider on the office staff who asks additional questions and then discusses with them options regarding next steps in their care.

What are my options if I don't want to see my doctor in-person?

QMG is now offering telehealth for patients to visit their healthcare providers virtually. Those visits can be provided via computer, smartphone or even landline. QMG Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Schlepphorst said the use of telehealth is another line of defense against COVID-19, enabling patients to practice social distancing and reduce exposure. To find out if a QMG provider is offering telehealth services, call his or her office directly or visit quincymedgroup.com/coronavirus. The provider's office will provide you with instructions on how to access this service.

Where should I get the latest information on COVID-19?

It's important that individuals look to authoritative, reliable sources for information regarding COVID-19. These sources include the CDC website, your local health organizations, local health departments and local emergency management services.