MAHASKA COUNTY — Before entering the Mahaska Health campus, visitors will get a temperature reading and will be asked quick screening questions about their health, symptoms and recent travel.

The health center – along with other community entities – is trying to mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19 to patients and staff.

During a news conference, Mahaska Health CEO Kevin DeRonde said the hospital is following guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control, the Iowa Department of Public Health and other state departments.

Only doors one and four are open. Visitors and employees will all stop for screening in tents just outside the entrances.

“This is a precautionary measure and will serve as an extension of our registration team to help keep everyone safe,” DeRonde said.

COVID-19 testing

Denyse Gipple, population health and quality director answered questions about testing for COVID-19.

“To be tested, someone needs to have symptoms of a respiratory illness with fever or respiratory symptoms. And then they also have to meet one other criteria,” she said. “That would include the exposure history to a confirmed case. Just to be clear, it has to be somebody who’s been confirmed. So it can’t be just that they heard someone may have had it. It needs to be a confirmed case.”

International travel history is also taken into consideration, Gipple said, along with international cruises.

“That travel is within 14 days of being sick. So if you’ve traveled internationally or were on an international cruise in 14 days then you can be tested,” she said. “We have to meet those criteria, otherwise the state hygienic lab will not perform the test.”

Gipple said those who think they meet testing criteria and need attention should call before presenting to the emergency department.

“If you think you have COVID-19 but you don’t need immediate attention but need to be seen, just call ahead so that we can plan for you visit. We can meet you with a mask and identify where we will see you,” she said. “Again, we are activating that emergency plan trying to keep people well and all of those things.”

The test is just for screening, Gipple said.

“It will tell us if you have the disease,” she said. “It does not mean that we will treat you any differently, because the symptoms are treated with supportive care.”

Remain calm

Emergency Management Agency/911 Administrator Jamey Robinson urged everyone to remain calm.

“We’re doing a lot of things that we’ve trained on in the past, that we’ve talked about in the past and we’re putting them into place so that when this happens, we’re ready. We don’t want to get stuck in a place that isn’t familiar to us,” he said. We talk about things. We look at the worst case scenario.”

Robinson strongly encouraged people to adhere to social distancing.

“We canceled schools. Businesses are slowing down. If we’re doing all of this, let’s do it for a purpose and keep away from each other,” he said. “Because if you congregate in large groups at the mall and different places in the community and cause the virus to spread, then canceling and doing all this was for nothing.”

Slow the spread

Public Health Nurse Patty Malloy said the reason all these measures have been put in place is to slow the potential spread.

“We’re following those recommendations so we don’t surge our medical system to the point where we have to make decisions that are harder than these decisions we’re making now,” she said. “We’re just trying to prevent there being a surge on our system.”

Law enforcement and first responders

Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem said despite the Law Enforcement Center being closed to walk-in traffic, all essential services are continuing uninterrupted.

“There might be some nonessential law enforcement services that may be interrupted, as far as sheriff’s office specifically,” he said.

No inmate visitation will be permitted during this time.

Oskaloosa Police Chief Ben Boeke said his department is also following public health recommendations and trying to keep staff as healthy as possible.

“What that means is we will provide all law enforcement services that we always have,” he said, “but there may be some nonessential functions such as vehicle unlocks that we just aren’t going to do anymore for the time being.”

Managing Editor Angie Holland can be reached at aholland@oskyherald.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

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