WMC Chief Medical Officer Andy Russell spoke during the Williamson County Board of Commissioners meeting March 9 to discuss how the hospital is preparing for a larger outbreak in the area.
"In the 16 years I’ve been here, we are constantly preparing for the next outbreak, be it Zika Virus or Ebola or Anthrax to now Coronavirus," Russell said. "We’re very strictly following along with the [Centers for Disease Control] and the World Health Organization guidelines."
Russell said beginning March 10, the hospital, located along Carothers Parkway in Franklin, is implementing a screening process for patients and others who enter the hospital.
"We’re starting to restrict access to visitors and other nonessential vendors. People who don’t need to be in the hospital, we don’t want them in the hospital," he said. "That’s for the safety of the patient, that’s for [visitors'] own safety as well."
Russell said while patients are being screened, the hospital's emergency room is still operating normally.
"Our emergency department is functioning as normal. If you’re sick and feel like you need to go to the emergency department we are ready to handle that at any time," he said. "If patients are having respiratory symptoms or anything consistent with Coronavirus, they‘re getting a mask and they’re getting directed to a certain part of the waiting room if there’s not a treatment room available immediately."
As of March 10 the number of cases has increased to six statewide, most of which are in Middle Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Russell said he expects that number to increase in the future.
"We are prepared if we have a big influx of patients," he said. "We are fully expecting more Coronavirus tests to come back positive. We fully expect there to be more, not only in Tennessee but in Williamson County."
Russell said WMC has a contingency plan in place should more cases arrive.
"We’ve prepared to convert a wing of the hospital into basically an isolation unit if need be," Russell said. "Again, we’ve made preparations to do so, we’re just waiting on the patients to come."
However, county officials continue to stress the overall risk to county residents is low and that residents should not hoard supplies.
Todd Horton, director of the Williamson County Emergency Management Agency, said residents should not purchase more than they need for themselves or their family so as to leave supplies available for health care professionals who need them.
"We encourage individuals to only purchase what they need and only for the amount of people that they care for," Horton said. "If you visit any of our local stores these days, you find that the shelves are completely empty in many of those locations and we are unnecessarily creating a disaster within a disaster. So we encourage you to be responsible. We understand they there’s fears but education helps [against] fear."
As a reminder, most people who contract Coronavirus experience mild to moderate symptoms and do not require hospitalization; however, elderly people or those with compromised immune systems and other illnesses can be at higher risk. The CDC and other health organizations recommend frequent hand washing and staying home if you are sick as ways to avoid spreading illnesses.
While WMC does have some testing kits for the virus, it does not have the lab capacity to run those tests, Russell said. Currently, all testing is going through the TDH and the CDC.
"We have lots of swabs where we can test people. The problem is the labs do not have capacity to test a large number," he said. "Up to this point, the department of health is the only place that will actually run those tests up to now. We have some kits, but just because we have kits doesn’t mean the tests are going to be run, especially not in a very timely fashion."
For patients who think they may have the virus or have been exposed, Russell said he recommends guidelines already released by the CDC and TDH.
"They are recommending that unless you have an emergency need where you need an ambulance, before you show at an ER, before you show up at your primary care doctor or at a walk-in clinic, call the department of health hotline number—they have somebody there that will direct you based on your symptoms as to what the next step should be," he said.
The TDH has launched a public information line at 877-857-2945 open daily from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.