Omicron, redundant systems, and your safety
Published 2:53 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022
By Michelle Fortune
Well, the holidays have come and gone, and we’ve welcomed in 2022. With all that’s new, COVID still dominates the news. And of late, the Omicron variant has been monopolizing much of my time, and probably yours too. I recently received an email from a community member focused on COVID safety in our 3D mammogram area. The questions in the dialogue were excellent and made me realize that sharing in a broader forum may be valuable to our community. But rather than focus on radiology-specific protocols, I want to share with you the extent of the redundant safety measures that we’ve implemented throughout St. Luke’s to keep you safer.
Here’s what we know about Omicron:
- There’s a short three-day window from exposure to the onset of symptoms
- In just two weeks, the Omicron has matched the peak infection levels set in 2020
- Reports indicate that the Omicron variant is less pathogenic and causes symptoms much milder as compared to Delta
- The emergence of the Omicron variant does not change current COVID-19 safety precautions or prevention strategies
With the onset of the pandemic, “Our team has worked hard getting up to speed and staying ahead of the curve,” said Lori Rothell, BSN, RN, CIC, Infection Preventionist at St. Luke’s. She continued by saying, “They’ve gone above and beyond developing and implementing campus safety protocols.” For example, we follow the ASHRAE and CDC guidelines for all hospital renovations. And we’re regularly inspected by the state, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Joint Commission to ensure we meet requirements and safety regulations for our patients.
How We’re Working Harder:
- All our patients and outpatients are carefully and thoroughly screened for COVID symptoms.
This screening begins with signage in our front parking lots. Before entering the hospital, we ask that everyone self-assess against the symptoms listed on the signs. And if you have any of the symptoms, you’re instructed to enter the hospital through the Emergency Department. This signage appears again before you enter the front lobby. Once in the lobby, the patients/visitors are verbally screened.
- In radiology, a pen is given to every patient whose signature is required, avoiding cross-contamination.
- High-traffic and at-risk areas of the hospital receive exhaustive disinfecting. In addition, high-touch areas are unceasingly wiped down (for example, wipe downs and disinfecting are standard on 3D mammogram equipment after every patient).
- Our safety committee has carefully studied hospital traffic and has established outpatient routes that minimize exposure to COVID patients. Because of our hospital layout and this work, we believe St. Luke’s to be among the safest hospitals in the region.
- Our HVAC system has been upgraded to the MERV 15 high-efficiency particulate air filtration to remove more than 99.97% of all particle sizes. And the system completely exchanges the air in the hospital seven times an hour. So that’s a total air exchange every 8.6 minutes. And in the Operating Room, the air is entirely replaced every 4.3 minutes.
- Three ICU patient rooms and two ED rooms have received additional permanent ceiling-mounted HEPA filtration. This filtration adds supplemental air purification before feeding it into the HVAC system.
- When a patient is discharged from an isolation area in medical/surgical, intensive care, and the emergency department, the nursing team removes all linens and sprays the room down with Virex. The rooms then receive thirty-five minutes of air exchange time before receiving twenty minutes of intense UV light treatment, killing any remaining pathogens.
- Personal Protective Equipment is in use every day. In addition to surgical masks, eye protection, and gloves, we also have six Powered Air Purifying Respirators (with more on order). This equipment offers our frontline workers a robust layer of protection when in direct contact with COVID patients.
- COVID-symptomatic patients are directed to enter through the Emergency Department to avoid infecting healthy outpatients and visitors in the main lobby. The attending physician determines if the patient receives the Rapid Antigen test or the BioFire. The BioFire tests for 21 different respiratory pathogens. St. Luke’s is one of the very few healthcare outlets equipped to provide BioFire results in one hour. Most outlets must send the test to a lab that will have the results back within 48 hours.
- Procedures planned for outpatients who test positive for COVID are rescheduled.
- Emergency surgery procedures are in place for COVID-positive patients to ensure the safety of the patient, our team, and others. Because general anesthesia on a patient with COVID can have negative consequences, surgery is a last resort.
HELP PREVENT THE SPREAD
According to Dr. Scott Roberts, Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, “There are anecdotal reports of cases being milder and patients having no loss of taste or smell. However, this information should be interpreted with caution until more data is available.”
- PLEASE BE TESTED at the first onset of symptoms. And if you test positive, remove yourself from contact with the public. If you test negative and are symptomatic, please remain separated from others until symptoms fully abate to prevent any virus or germ transmission.
- Wash your hands frequently, wear your masks in public, and socially distance yourself from those not in your immediate household.
Protocols + Systems + Equipment = Patient Safety
We’ve just scratched the surface in this article. But you’ve learned that we have invested quite a bit in planning, money, and execution to keep you safe. With all these redundancies in place for your safety, we hope that St. Luke’s will be your first choice for all needed outpatient procedures and inpatient care that we provide.
At St. Luke’s Hospital, we’re working harder to keep you healthier.
If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.