LIMA — Those who suspect they might have COVID-19 will soon have access to a local hotline and screening center in the Lima area dedicated to patients whose symptoms are not severe enough to merit an emergency department visit — a growing concern as Ohio braces for a widespread outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Lima Memorial Health System and Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center have combined their efforts to contain COVID-19, developing a call center and screening process to perform basic checkups for those who suspect they may have the coronavirus.
The call center is expected to open next week. Once it does, those who believe they may have COVID-19 may call the hotline to determine whether additional screening is needed.
But anyone suffering shortness of breath or other severe symptoms should still call the emergency department.
People with mild symptoms should expect to isolate and treat themselves at home as if it were a cold. And they shouldn’t expect a lab test right now either, as testing kits are still in short supply and are being reserved for high-risk patients.
“We’re trying to preserve our medical care for those who need it most,” Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn said.
“There’s no reason they need to be tested,” Dr. Dennis Morris, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer for Lima Memorial Health System, said of patients with mild symptoms. “Whether they have COVID-19 or not, the treatment is going to be the same.”
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allen County as of Friday, but health experts warn the virus may already be spreading here undetected.
The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday estimated 1% of the state’s population, nearly 100,000 people, may already be carrying the virus. Because of the lack of widespread testing, officials can’t determine where exactly the disease has spread.
But Luhn said it’s too late to wait for a positive test result to come out of Allen County before acting. She encourages people to avoid crowds and social gatherings — regardless of whether those gatherings fall short of the governor’s ban on large events.
“One hundred people is a bit arbitrary,” she said. “What people need to ask themselves is: is it necessary to have this event?”
Those guidelines are especially important for at-risk groups — the elderly, immunocompromised and those with chronic medical conditions — who should restrict close social contact as much as possible.
Luhn encourages healthier people who are less concerned with contracting COVID-19 to check on their elderly neighbors and family with shopping or other errands.
“We understand the public is anxious,” said Dr. Matt Owens, chief medical officer for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s. “We understand that some of the restrictions feel extreme, but we’re asking folks to trust us, to help us lead them through this and to help us take care of them and get them through this with less disease and potentially less tragic situations than it otherwise has proved itself to be in other areas of the world.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.