Hospital changes visitor restrictions, gives COVID-19 update

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases has somewhat leveled off in Jackson County, Schneck Medical Center has changed its visitor restrictions.

All patients are now allowed one visitor, and that person must be 18 or older and healthy and wear a mask while visiting the Seymour hospital.

Visitors will continue to be screened at each screening station upon entry and provided a wristband indicating they have been screened for the day.

Exceptions include no visitors are allowed for any isolation patient in order to conserve the hospital’s personal protective equipment resources; two visitors are permitted for end-of-life patients, including hospice and isolation, and they must be 18 or older and healthy and are not required to leave after 24 hours; and no visitors are allowed at the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center.

The visitor restriction changes went into effect Monday.

That night during the Schneck board of trustees meeting conducted via teleconference, Dr. Eric Fish, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the hospital continues to see patients within the facility but on a much lower basis than recent weeks.

As of Monday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Jackson County had 430 positive COVID-19 cases, 313 of which were tested at Schneck facilities.

The county has had 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past 31 days for an average of 2.35 new cases per day. Three county residents have died from the virus.

“We have seen some of the positive testing somewhat reduce,” Fish said. “Over the last week, we’ve had nine cases that we’ve shown positive, so I think we have somewhat leveled off.”

The fifth and final stage of the reopening of the state’s economy starts July 4. That’s when large events will be allowed, retail will be at full capacity and restrictions will be lifted at amusement parks and other large venues.

Fish said the state has done a great job of laying out the five phases, and it will be interesting to see if Indiana has the increases in cases like other states have seen as reopenings occur.

So far with the gradual reopening, Fish said there has not been an uptick in cases locally, but that’s not the case in Elkhart and LaGrange counties in northern Indiana.

In LaGrange County, the health department is requiring everyone to wear a mask or face covering over the mouth and nose following a steep increase of COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal. The county has seen more than 200 new cases since May 25, nearly quadrupling in 21 days.

Neighboring Elkhart County has more than 2,600 positive cases.

Antibody testing available

Fish also said Schneck is offering antibody testing for hospital employees and other employers in the county.

The testing is for people who may have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or who were sick and recovered but never got tested.

The test, which requires a blood draw, is used to detect antibodies, which determine whether a person has ever been infected by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A person’s immune system builds up antibodies or proteins after they have contracted a virus to help fight off future infections. Each antibody is different depending on the type of virus the person had.

“You should get a COVID-19 antibody test if you have recovered from COVID-19, been in close contact with someone who may have had COVID-19 or your health care provider believes you may have been exposed based on your symptoms,” said Stephanie Furlow, director of marketing at Schneck.

The cost of the test is $35 and is covered by most health insurance plans, Furlow said. Results are available within 24 hours, and with 99.8% accuracy, the antibody test is less likely to provide a false negative result, Furlow said.

The antibody test is not used to diagnose a patient who is sick and showing symptoms, and a positive test does not mean a patient is immune to contracting the virus again, she said.

Knowing whether a person had COVID-19 can help doctors provide better recommendations regarding care and limit the spread of the illness, she said.

The testing is being made possible by Schneck through a partnership with Roche Diagnostics.

For information about COVID-19 antibody testing, patients should contact their primary care physician. Additional information can be found at cdc.gov/COVID19.

Looking to the future

During Monday’s meeting, Fish also said the hospital’s executive team is preparing in the event of a future surge of the virus.

“We have had a lot of discussions of not only dealing with COVID, but what does it look like with COVID and the flu this fall and winter, so we’re making those preparations as we speak,” he said.

Board attorney Susan Bevers asked Fish what the hospital would suggest local public and private schools pay attention to while making a decision on the 2020-21 school year.

Fish said he and Dr. Christopher Bunce, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital and public health officer for the Jackson County Health Department, recently met with Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Brandon Harpe to learn about the district’s return-to-school plan.

“I know other schools have been doing the same, and they seem to be very safe plans, very effective plans,” Fish said. “I know there has been a lot of work in all of the schools, and I think what we’ve offered is what we gave to Seymour and any others in the neighboring counties — help in any way possible with testing or anything that we can.”

Harpe praised hospital officials for their assistance.

“I’ve been on a lot of conference calls with superintendents throughout the state, and there’s a lot of frustration around the state because of the lack of the working relationship between the hospital and the health department and the schools, and I’m proud to say that’s not the way it is in Jackson County,” he said. “Dr. Bunce, Dr. Fish and others have been a great resource for us, so we certainly appreciate that.”