Penn Highlands Healthcare forms coronavirus task force, will offer testing

Local News

DUBOIS, Pa. (WTAJ)– Penn Highlands Healthcare System announced Wednesday the formation of a COVID-19 task force and plans to begin coronavirus testing.

The task force consists of experts and representatives from all hospitals in the system.

Members will meet at least once a week to discuss coronavirus guidelines, preparedness, and disaster planning.

At the head of that task force is Dr. Shaun Sheehan, corporate emergency services medical director, who did his specialization in emergency medicine.

“Right now we’re not in a disaster, but should anything occur, this task force has been put together to be prepared to respond to it,” Sheehan said.

Starting Monday, Penn Highlands Healthcare will offer COVID-19 testing at all of their facilities through Quest Diagnostics.

“Up until now, we have only been able to get samples for coronavirus run through the Department of Health,” Sheehan said.

Even with independent testing available, the hospital system will follow state guidelines for testing.

In order to get tested, the Pennsylvania Department of Health requires a display of symptoms, clinical suspicion, and travel history to areas with coronavirus.

Tests to rule out other respiratory illnesses or the flu will be done first.

“Should we need to test for COVID-19 directly, we’ll be able to do that now through Quest,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said while the risk of contracting coronavirus is still very small, it should be taken seriously.

“Should there be a spike in the coronavirus cases, we want to be prepared, we want our staff and our communities to be safe, and that is the primary focus of the task force that’s been formed,” Sheehan said.

He said prevention starts with good hygiene.

“Cleaning surfaces on a frequent basis, hand washing, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, you want to take precautions just like you would if otherwise develop an illness,” Sheehan said.

Penn Highlands is also working on improving coronavirus screening that can be done over the phone or via an app.

They’re asking anyone who does have symptoms to call their healthcare provider from home for a screening and not come to the hospital unless directed.

Sheehan said a problem that hospitals worldwide are facing is they are unable to purchase face masks and Lysol products.

He said that this is because the public is buying the supply, and while it is important to sanitize surfaces, face masks are not an effective way to prevent contracting coronavirus.

“What it does do is protect others when you cough or sneeze, it keeps those droplets closer to you,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan reports that Penn Highlands has not treated anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 at this time.

COVID-19 the the specific name for the strand of coronavirus.

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