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Sick or exposed? Contact doctors before going to York Hospital, official says

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
WellSpan York Hospital begins COVID-19 coronavirus outdoor screening, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

The first step for people who are sick or suspect they were exposed to the coronavirus is to pick up the phone or log on to the computer — not to drive to York Hospital.

"We want people to call us, rather than just showing up," WellSpan York Hospital spokesman Ryan Coyle said. "The logic behind that is, we can determine over the phone whether that individual needs to be tested. And then we have testing locations set up to allow that to happen."

York County residents should first call their family doctors, he advised.

"Call your primary care physician if you have concerns, and they can do an evaluation over the phone that will make the determination as to whether you need to be tested," Coyle said.

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People who don't have family doctors can have a virtual visit online with a WellSpan care provider, he said, by going to wellspan.org/ouc, which is WellSpan's online urgent-care page.

It provides access to physicians 24 hours a day through a smartphone, tablet or personal computer, according to the website; the standard fee is $49.

A temporary patient screening and testing area, for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, is shown outside the Emergency Department at WellSpan York Hospital in York City, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Online assessment: WellSpan also has an online COVID-19 assessment tool for the public, whether users have a family doctor or not. That's at wellspan.org/coronavirus.

"It's essentially a chat-type feature that allows you to answer yes or no questions ... and (it) might ultimately determine you need to speak with someone over the phone," Coyle said.

"It can be used by anybody sitting at home who might have some questions," he said. "It gives you useful information."

People who are instructed by their doctors or by WellSpan's online urgent-care site to get tested for the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic should go to York Hospital's outdoor testing areas, Coyle said.

"When you show up at one of these testing tents, they will check your vitals and determine ... the best course of action," he said. "Eighty percent of individuals tested are actually best served to go home."

Those are people exhibiting no symptoms or mild symptoms, he said, and they are instructed to "self-isolate" to prevent them from spreading the disease.

"If 80% of individuals can be isolated at home, that allows us to maintain room at the hospital for the 20% who need to be (hospitalized)," Coyle said. "It’s just not the best course of action for everyone who gets tested to come into the hospital and stay at the hospital."

Testing: It takes between one and four days to get test results, he said.

Hospital staff work to sanitize a temporary patient screening and testing area after a patient is screened outside the Emergency Department at WellSpan York Hospital in York City, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The tented area will allow patients efficiently tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus in an open air space. Dawn J. Sagert photo

People advised to stay home and self-isolate should call a doctor if their symptoms intensify, Coyle advised.

He said WellSpan and York Hospital remain in close contact with the state Department of Health, which announced at noon Wednesday that York County has its first two cases of COVID-19.

As of noon, there were 133 confirmed cases of the virus statewide, according to the Health Department.

Coyle urged people to stay home if possible and continue to maintain physical distance from others, called social distancing.

"That's our biggest preventative tool at this point to limit the spread," he said.

Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Kelly McCall said people who suspect they have COVID-19 but who don't have breathing problems or high fevers should call their family doctors, or use their insurers' "virtual visit options" for initial guidance.

"Doing this from home is best for all and limits the spread of any infection," she wrote in an email. Those without family doctors can call UPMC's Pinnacle nurse advice team at 866-9-NURSE1 or at 717-988-0074, she said.

People with high fevers or breathing problems should go to Memorial Hospital's emergency department, but should call first if not arriving by ambulance, McCall said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.