• Excela Health tests for coronavirus, prepared for possible cases

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    March 22, 2020

    The chief medical officer for Excela Health believes it's a matter of when, not if, Westmoreland County will see its first coronavirus case.

    "I suspect it'll be sooner rather than later, but I don't have a crystal ball to tell you whether it will be hours or days," Dr. Carol Fox said Wednesday.

    Fox said patients have already been tested through Excela Health, and some of those tests are still pending. Fox would not say how many tests were taken and pending. 

    Excela Health, like all local medical centers, is testing patients based on strict eadguidelines, placing a premium on those at risk or who may have recently traveled. The decision is due to a lack of testing supplies.

    "Our reorders are slow coming in, and some of them are back-ordered, so the number of tests available are diminishing somewhat, consistent with test capabilities across the country," Fox said.

    Excela Health is sending its test samples to private companies, including Quest and LabCorp. Right now, the average turnaround time for a result is three to five days, Fox said.

    While there are currently no cases in the county, Fox said, due to testing limitations, it is possible there are people carrying the virus in the county who have not been diagnosed.

    "We believe that's very likely to be the case," Fox said. "I think that's why following the instructions set forth by the CDC, the federal government and our state government are so important."

    Fox said it will most likely be weeks before testing capabilities can expand to include everyone showing coronavirus symptoms.

    In the meantime, Excela Health officials are preparing for a possible influx of patients. Physicians are being asked to limit in-person appointments, and all three Excela hospitals are holding off on elective surgeries.

    "We started notifying patients for surgeries effective today," Fox said. "There's going to be some surgeries that still need to go forward, based on the clinical situation for the patient, and those surgeries will continue."

    Excela Health officials have also put a number of restrictions on visits to local hospitals. That information can be found on the Excela Health website.

    Patti Buhl, Mager, Community Relations