ManorCare screens visitors for fever, York Hospital makes plans for coronavirus

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
A person wearing a mask walks past a sign banning visitors at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle, Monday, March 2, 2020. Dozens of people associated with the facility are reportedly ill with respiratory symptoms or hospitalized and are being tested for the COVID-19 virus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

HCR ManorCare, which operates four nursing homes and one hospice center in York County, is ramping up screening of patients, visitors and staff at its health care facilities nationwide in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Screening will include taking temperatures and monitoring for symptoms, and all guests are being encouraged to use hand sanitizer and limit their movement within the facility.

"The screening, we know, might be an inconvenience, but we know it’s the right thing to do right now," ManorCare spokeswoman Julie Beckert said Tuesday.

ManorCare has facilities in York Township, West Manchester Township and Springettsbury Township.

Older adults are especially at risk for contracting the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a message on its corporate website, the company also requested that anyone who may have been exposed to the virus via travel or contact with an infected person refrain from visiting its nursing homes.

The move comes as more and more cases of the  virus have been confirmed in the U.S.

There were a total of 647 cases and 25 deaths nationwide as of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported.

Pennsylvania had 12 presumptive cases as of Tuesday afternoon, with the latest case reported in the city of Philadelphia.

The spread of the virus is having a ripple effect nationally and internationally.

In music and entertainment, organizers of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, have canceled the event. Officials for Coachella, in Indio, California, are reportedly considering postponing this year's festival. Rock band Pearl Jam has also postponed the first leg of its North American tour.

And York College canceled a concert by indie-pop band AJR that was scheduled for March 20, the school announced late Tuesday.

Harvard University is telling students not to return to campus following spring break and to move out of their dorms this week. The school is moving to all virtual classes effective March 23. In Pennsylvania, West Chester University also canceled in-person instruction through the remainder of the spring semester. 

In sports, the Ivy League athletic conference on Tuesday canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Meanwhile, state and local governments are trying to respond to a fluid situation.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent the national guard to enforce a 1-mile containment area in New Rochelle, north of New York City. And Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency and urged the cancellation of all large gatherings.

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The Pennsylvania Department of Health has said there is no "community spread" in the state, meaning all cases can be traced either to travel in an area with a known outbreak  or contact with a person who is known to have the virus.

None of the state's 12 cases are in York County, but local health officials and health care providers are taking precautions.

York Hospital has signs posted in its facilities asking  anyone who has traveled to an area with an outbreak of the coronavirus and has symptoms of the virus to call ahead before going to the hospital or doctor's office, said Dr. David Gasperack, regional medical director for WellSpan Health.

WellSpan has an incident command team that's been meeting daily to discuss how to prepare and respond to the situation.

Gasperack said WellSpan offers online urgent care evaluations.

If Pennsylvania does end up with community spread, patients who fear they have the virus but aren't experiencing serious symptoms could get an assessment online without coming into a waiting room and potentially infecting other people, he said.

Patients with severe symptoms will receive treatment, and patients who have mild symptoms could be directed to self-isolate at home.

"What we’re trying to convey to patients right now is that we will take care of you," Gasperack said, "but we need to determine the best environment, for them, to do that."

Joe Stevens, chief of York Regional EMS, said there's been a lot of hype over the virus that's causing fear in the community.

"It comes back to good hygiene, good health: cover your cough, wash your hands, those type of things," he said. "It’s the simple things that keep you healthy."

Even so, Stevens said his team is maintaining the infectious disease protocol it has in place at all times, whether there's a pandemic or a regular flu season.

Each time the medical technicians change shifts, the entire ambulance is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

Equipment is cleaned and sterilized between each medical call, and if the emergency medical service responders treat a patient with a respiratory illness, the ambulance is cleaned and sterilized again before any other patients are transported, regardless of whether it's time for a shift change.

"We are taking these things seriously, but we take them seriously all the time," Stevens said.

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