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Emergency Room doctors hope for changes to better care for COVID-19 patients: 'We're nervous'

We are very limited on testing, we truly cannot be testing those who are asymptomatic right now
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Posted at 12:00 AM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 15:16:54-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Emergency Room Doctor Joran Sequeria has a message for employers in the Richmond region: stop sending your employees who recently traveled, have sick family members, or who have an upper respiratory issue to the Emergency Room for a COVID-19 test and a doctor's note.

"We are very limited on testing, we truly cannot be testing those who are asymptomatic right now or those who are not very sick," Dr. Sequeria said. "I would first have them call the VDH, there is a hotline number, talk to them does this person need to self quarantine or can they continue work as usual?"

Currently, emergency rooms are one of the only places people can get tested for the virus in Central Virginia. And mixing asymptomatic COVID patients with people who are gravely ill with something like pneumonia can make for a dangerous cocktail, Doctor Sequeria said.

"You could be giving that now to someone else," Sequeria said. "You could also be exposing yourself."

On Wednesday, the state health department opened the first pop-up drive-through testing location in Central Virginia.

Sequeria said the state needs more of them.

"Ideally we would love it if there were testing centers off campus somewhere," Sequeria said

To try to limit exposure, Sequeria said her hospital has divided the ER into two separate areas: people with respiratory issues go one way, and everyone else goes another.

"Every person that is coming in with low oxygen levels, pneumonias or fevers you have to think is this COVID-19? Is this a possible patient we should be testing?" Sequeria said.

The initial screening dictates whether the doctors and nurses who attend to each patient wear a mask.

"I think right now we would love it if we could all wear masks for every single patient, but that's just not possible, we don't have enough just simple surgical masks to wear for every single patient," Sequeria said.

Research shows the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic are at a higher risk for developing the virus.

Sequeria said her hospital currently has enough protective gear, but that it's very early in this battle, and they're expecting things to get worse.

"We're nervous, we're fearing a little bit of the unknown," Sequeria said. "The question is how long is that supply going to be around?"

When asked if there are enough beds and ventilators at hospitals in Virginia to handle what may be coming Sequeria said "I don't know, that's a simple answer is that I don't know, if it gets really bad, I'm afraid not."

The head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments announced that Bon Secours is working on setting up several regional sites where they will do COVID-19 only testing, but he doesn't know exactly when those will go up.

He said some local doctors have also started to do testing at their practices.