RRH reports first positive test result

COVID-19 cases grow in Kern County

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

RRH reports first positive test resultLate Wednesday night, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital officials received confirmation of the first known patient of COVID-19 in the Indian Wells Valley.

While it does not substantially change anything in our community, said RRH Chief Executive Officer Jim Suver, “It validates all the actions we’ve taken, all the protocols we have put into place, to prepare for the time when coronavirus comes to our community.”

For weeks, RRH has been improving its posture to prepare for the eventual arrival of the coronavirus by enhancing sanitization, putting clinicians in protective gear and keeping patients isolated from staff and others seeking treatment.

As the steward of public health in the IWV, Suver has led the “Flatten the Curve” campaign on a local level — putting out a constant stream of messages to inform the public of risks and precautions, encouraging employers to send all but essential staff home and working with other community leaders to keep seniors and other high-risk groups safe by adhering to social distancing directives.

“I am not really surprised by this confirmation. We knew it was coming, and have done our best to brace for an outbreak at the hospital,” said Suver.

“But we still need the community to help us minimize impact by staying home, social distancing, and taking any other measures they can to contain the virus.”

By Thursday, Kern County Public Health Department had confirmed 29 patients in Kern County who had tested positively for the illness.

Suver said that the hospital is working with county epidemiologists to collect data in hopes of putting measures in place to contain infection.

He noted that seniors citizens, as well as those with existing complications or autoimmune disorders, remain among the most vulnerable population. However, he noted that a child in Lancaster had reportedly died from the illness.

“One of the problems with a novel virus is we just don’t know enough about it. Part of our reason for being cautious is that there are so many things about an outbreak that are beyond our ability to predict,” said Suver.

“We have seen from the beginning the disastrous results this virus can have in a nursing home, and now we can see that it can be very dangerous to young people as well.”

Many individuals who test positively are young or healthy enough that symptoms do not present to a significant degree, he said.

Suver noted that Centers for Disease Control have directed healthcare officials to test only individuals who meet specific criteria — those who have traveled to an area where the virus is prevalent, those who have had direct contact with someone afflicted with COVID-19, or those who present coronavirus symptoms that have no other explanation.

“The CDC has released new information that they are optimistic about having home-testing kits available within the next two weeks,” said Suver. “That will be tremendously valuable if that is approved. For one, it will help us protect our staff working on the front lines. But if we get enough tests, we will also have a much better sense of impact and prevalence in our community.”

He said that continued self-isolation and social distancing will continue to be important in limiting the scope of an outbreak.

So far, Suver said that RRH has the staff and supplies to meet local demands for treatment. However, anyone who is sick should call the hospital at 760-446-3551 and ask for instructions. “We don’t want to put our staff or patients at risk through unnecessary exposure.”

Anyone experiencing symptoms of illness will be triaged so that a nurse can respond with direction about how to pursue treatment.

For ongoing updates, see also rrh.org.

Story First Published: 2020-03-26