Allison Hendrickson, Manager of Media Relations at Dignity Health North State said Mercy is “prepared to identify, immediately isolate, and treat any potentially infected patient who seeks our care.”

As of Monday afternoon, March 16, there were still zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Siskiyou County, although many in the community speculate that’s because so few testing kits have been available.

The good news: test kits are now more widely accessible in Siskiyou County through primary care providers, said Siskiyou County Public Health officer Stephen Kolpakoff, and both Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta and Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka are taking steps to prepare for a possible influx of patients.

Allison Hendrickson, Manager of Media Relations at Dignity Health North State said Mercy is “prepared to identify, immediately isolate, and treat any potentially infected patient who seeks our care.”

Both hospitals are screening all patients and visitors at their front entrances, and Fairchild has set up a tent in the rear of the hospital in preparation for increased demand if needed. Patients may be medically screened and triaged there and sent home to self isolate, if appropriate, according to a Friday afternoon press release.

“We continue to work closely with governmental agencies to understand and implement recommendations related to safety practices to keep patients and staff safe,” said Fairchild’s CEO Jonathon Andrus. “At the same time, we remain fully committed to being here each day to provide for all of the non-COVID19 medical needs of the community.”

When to get tested

Kolpakoff encouraged people who are experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath to contact their doctor prior to seeking care to minimize exposure to others.

Those who are sick will first be asked some screening questions, as there are several other viruses floating around with similar symptoms, including Influenza A and B and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

If a Covid-19 test is administered, it’s sent out for processing at whichever lab the hospital contracts with, or to the Shasta County Public Health Department, where turnaround is relatively fast: about 48 hours, said Kolpakoff.

Kolpakoff reminded the public that 80 percent of those ill with COVID-19 show very mild symptoms. Another 15% of cases have more serious symptoms, and 5% may require hospitalization.

He pointed out that there’s no treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 and that “care is supportive,” so it’s best, if you are young and healthy, to stay home if you feel sick so you don’t spread your illness to the vulnerable population.

COVID-19 “is mainly affecting older folks,” said Kolpakoff, and those with compromised immune systems. That’s why Governor Newsom has called for the cancelation of gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” Newsom said in a statement on Wednesday. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease. Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects – saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now. The people in our lives who are most at risk – seniors and those with underlying health conditions –are depending on all of us to make the right choice.”

Although coverage of the coronavirus has dominated the media, Fairchild officials encouraged the public to remain calm and use common sense during this “time of uncertainty.”

The most noticeable preparedness at the Yreka hospital and clinics is screening all entering the premises. Staff will be asking arrivals to the hospital if there has been recent travel out of the area, or if the person has a fever, cough, or respiratory issues. Masks are offered for those needing them.

Fairchild Medical has temporarily put into effect a visitor policy that requests no visitors under the age of 14 and limits patient’s visitors to one person at a time.

“We have chosen to make these changes in order to best care for our patients and to help stop the spread of germs,” according to Fairchild’s press release.

Dr. Barbara North, medical director at ANAV Tribal Health Clinic in Fort Jones, reported some frustration that more COVID-19 tests weren’t available in Siskiyou County earlier. She said the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation has been incredibly supportive during the pandemic but testing is two to three months behind China and tests that weren’t directly approved by the Center for Disease Control couldn’t be processed by county health departments.

Fortunately, North said, at least two large labs are soon coming out with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 tests, including Quest and LabCorp, and this will provide some relief for clinics and hospitals in need of more test kits.

North said at her small clinic, 15 to 30 people with flu-like symptoms were being seen each day last week.

While it’s true that testing has been limited in Siskiyou County, Kolpakoff said those who are sick with serious respiratory infections have been tested, and those have all come back negative for the novel coronavirus as of Monday afternoon.

If there is a suspected COVID-19 diagnosis at Mercy Mt. Shasta, physicians “immediately notify our infection prevention staff and local public health officials to consult on ... testing,” said spokeswoman Hendrickson. Staff is trained to wear personal protective equipment and follow airborne and contact precautions.

COVID-19 symptoms

Signs and symptoms of the flu, according to both hospitals, include fever or feeling feverish, headache, muscle or body aches, cough, feeling very tired (fatigue), sore throat, or a runny or stuffy nose.

Respiratory viruses are mainly spread by droplets made when people who have the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Viruses can also spread on surfaces, but this is less common. People with the flu can spread the virus before, during, and after they are sick.

Signs and symptoms of COVID-19: Fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath.

• It is thought to be spread by coughing/sneezing or other close contact (meaning being within six feet of an infected person for a period of time) with a person who is infected with COVID-19. It might also spread by touching items that an infected person has used, like tissues or linen and then touching one’s face or eyes.