Owen Sound’s temporary COVID-19 assessment centre will open at noon Wednesday in a parking lot near the hospital’s emergency department.
People are encouraged to call a new Grey Bruce Health Services call centre, at 519-378-1466, which will field calls Wednesday from noon until 4 p.m., then Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Staff there will help advise local people whether to come to the assessment centre.
Three such assessment centres are opening in Grey-Bruce. The others are opening at hospital sites in Hanover and Kincardine on Thursday, a news release sent by the three local hospital corporations said.
The novel coronavirus, which has spread across the country and the world, has led to unprecedented emergency measures. Restrictions on gatherings, travel, and advised hygiene vigilance have been issued to limit the expected increase in cases so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system.
People shouldn’t go to the nearest emergency department to check for COVID-19 unless they can’t get to an assessment centre or are really sick, said Gary Sims, the president and CEO of Grey Bruce Health Services.
“People need to realize during these times, those emerges are overloaded and there are a lot of people trying to go there. So where possible I would encourage people to go to the assessment centres,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“If people are very ill, they should go to the nearest emergency department or [call] 911. They should not be going to the assessment centre,” Sims said.
People should come to the assessment centre if they’re suffering from fever, cough and difficulty breathing, he said. No appointments are required.
“The purpose of the assessment centres is to expand the hospital capacity to assess and screen patients for COVID-19 and to free up the emergency department resources and to continue to manage safely the normal volumes of patients,” he said.
“The most important thing is, for patients if you do not have symptoms, please do not come to the assessment centre,” Sims said. “Most people experience mild symptoms and recover fully without treatment within two weeks,” Sims said.
The Owen Sound assessment centre hours are from noon to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Only people with COVID-19 symptoms who need a support person will be allowed to be accompanied by someone to the assessment centre or the emergency department.
Sims also addressed the expected request to be tested for COVID-19.
“We are not doing a lot of testing anymore. We are trying to conserve the swabs that are in the province for those cases that are most critical, and certainly for those frontline workers and patients that are in critical centres that need to be swabbed.
“If people are going just to find out if they have COVID, they will not be swabbed unless the physician believes their symptoms are severe enough to be swabbed, “ he said.
“The vast majority of people do not require swabbing, do not really need the treatment, they just need to be isolated at home and following the procedures: washing your hands, sneezing and coughing into their elbow, and remaining at a distance from people in social environments.”
In addition to using the new local call centre, Sims also encouraged people to use the province’s online self-assessment tool at www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus, to help them determine whether to come. Assessment centre details will be posted on the hospital’s website.
Telehealth Ontario, at 1-866-797-0000, which has been swamped, is another option to help assess whether to go to a COVID-19 assessment centre, Sims said.
When people arrive at the Owen Sound hospital, they will be prescreened by someone in a wooden shelter set up beside the lane leading to the emergency department.
At that first assessment shelter, visitors will be greeted by staff who’ll determine if they should go directly to the ER or to the assessment centre. Visitors will be asked to wash their hands and put on a mask prior to entry.
If it’s for COVID-19, they’ll direct you where to park and point to the entrance. There’s a second assessment shed like the first, with a sign marked “Entrance,” Sims said. Its beside a large trailer, which is the main assessment building.
In this second assessment shed, security and staff will assess visitors before sending them up the wooden ramp that leads to the trailer. In there, they’ll be met by reception, their critical information will be collected, then they’ll be guided to a private area for a nurse’s assessment, followed by a visit by a physician.
They’ll exit at the opposite end of the trailer from which they entered and go back to their vehicles, mostly in the emergency department parking lot next to the trailer, or in secondary parking nearby. People will guide visitors where to park, Sims said.
If people are visiting the emergency department for reasons other than concerns about COVID-19, they may go directly to the ER, Sims said. They’ll still be greeted at the door and asked COVID-19 screening questions before they’ll be let in.
Sims’ best estimate is that on the first day of the assessment centre in operation, perhaps 35 to 50 people will attend. Based on what’s happened elsewhere, there may be a swell of people, perhaps as many as 100 on the second day.
Once the centre is operating for a while, 20 or 30 people, or as many as 50 people a day might be expected, he said.
Sims said we’re all responsible to work together and to recognize there are limited resources available that need to be used wisely.