Employee at Norwalk hospital diagnosed with coronavirus
DANBURY — A New York resident who recently worked shifts as an employee at Norwalk and Danbury hospitals has tested positive for coronavirus.
“This is not unexpected,” Gov. Ned Lamont said at a news conference Friday night at Danbury City Hall. “We’ve been prepared for this — well prepared for this.”
Kerry Eaton, chief operating officer for Nuvance Health, the parent company of the hospitals, said it is believed the employee contracted the disease in New York. She is now in Westchester County under self-quarantine, Eaton said.
The employee went into self-quarantine on Wednesday when she was notified by New York officials that she may have come into contact with someone with the virus, Eaton said.
Eaton said the employee worked in a relatively isolated part of Norwalk and Danbury hospitals and came into contact with a limited number of employees and patients. The employees were notified Friday and furloughed for 14 days, Eaton said.
The two hospitals are part of the Western Connecticut Health Network, which includes New Milford and Sharon hospitals. That group is part of Nuvance Health, with seven hospitals in total, based in the Hudson Valley.
Eaton said hospital officials have been preparing for a possible case of the coronavirus since mid-January and expressed confidence in staffers’ ability to handle the situation, noting that employees deal with infectious diseases every day.
Renee Coleman-Mitchell, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said during Friday night’s news conference that 42 possible cases of coronavirus have been tested at the state lab in Rocky Hill. All have come back negative. Another 11 samples are set to be examined, she said.
The state has one examination kit, allowing for 600 tests to be conducted, Coleman-Mitchell said.
Lamont has requested another kit from the federal government, which could be obtained by early next week, she said.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the case highlighted the need for federal action and support.
“This unfortunate news highlights the need for heightened preparedness — swift and strategic action to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further. The CDC should immediately provide Connecticut with tests already promised now more necessary than ever,” Blumenthal said. “Other federal support should follow, such as reimbursement for local and state expenses, assistance for local health officials and first responders, and aid for small businesses. My thoughts are with the patient and prayers for a swift and complete recovery.”
Hospitals across Connecticut spent Friday preparing for an influx of people wondering whether they’ve contracted coronavirus by making plans for triage centers outside their main buildings.
The centers could be tents in hospital parking lots, or temporary trailers or office space, not necessarily near the hospitals that would open them.
The extra infrastructure would be used primarily for screening and testing, not treatment, to keep people who think they may have contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus out of waiting rooms and emergency departments where people with otherwise compromised immune systems might be.
“If you don’t have a hospital in your neighborhood, a testing site that is isolated from everything else to reduce the contamination of other people and the other health care workers,” said Dr. John Rodis, president of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.
Hospitals are in the early stages of preparations, but the need may increase rapidly in the coming days. Officials in New Haven have confirmed a person has been exposed to someone who had the virus, and a number of cases have been detected in Westchester County, including Port Chester, N.Y.
“If we can’t get it right here in Connecticut, who can,” Lamont said during a news conference at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center on Friday morning. “We’re prepared, we’ve been preparing for this for a while ... probably it’s going to look like a bad flu season.”
Rodis said many hospitals already have hazmat tents that can be set up on short notice, and that hospitals are working with the Department of Public Health for approvals and to determine if and when it’s necessary, to keep people from inundating emergency departments.
The tents and other temporary facilities would not need full certificates of need from the public health department — a process that can take many months for regular construction.
“Within our hospital we have about 40 isolation rooms that the air is changed six to 12 times an hour. We also have emergency tents, most of us do, just for hazmat spills and chemical exposures. So we could set up a hazmat tent outside our ED (emergency department), and we have done that because we have had hazmat spills back in the anthrax days and that kind of thing, so we can pop up a tent in an incredibly short time.”
Av Harris, communications director for the state Department of Public Health, said hospitals are isolating screening and testing for coronavirus because there is no vaccine or treatment medication, and the virus is highly contagious. That’s in comparison to the annual flu, he said, for which all health care workers are vaccinated, and anti-viral medications are available.
Josh Geballe, the chief operating officer, said the addition of triage centers will be handled by each hospital depending on the need and infrastructure they have available. Geballe said the hospitals will be responsible for incurring the cost of the additional infrastructure for the time being.
“This could look like a tent in a parking lot across the street,” Geballe said. “I know one hospital in Connecticut is in the process of setting up (shipping) containers and they’re putting negative air compression in those and they will be collecting samples in those. You’re going to see a lot of creativity in our hospital systems.”
While the Connecticut State Health Lab in Rocky Hill has limited testing capacity, Quest Diagnostics, a private provider of diagnostic information services, announced it will begin to offer testing for the virus nationwide on Monday, pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“That’s a big deal because that significantly expands the national capacity for processing tests,” Geballe said. “Many of our larger hospitals are also going through an FDA process right now in order to be able to do their own testing on site, so we are days away from having dramatically increased capacity to process tests.”
Those tests will require health care providers to take the swabbed samples from patients — which could put pressure on hospitals and physicians’ offices.
“Then the bottleneck shifts to collecting the specimens from potential patients and so that’s the concept of alternative testing sites,” Geballe said. “That is keeping people who are not critically ill away from our EDs, preserving our most critical resources, which are the beds for the people who are critically ill.”
Associated editor and columnist Dan Haar contributed to this story. email@example.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt