In response to concerns raised by community members, the staff at Smith County Memorial Hospital wanted to take a moment to explain the recommendations made by our medical providers and administration as well as the use of PPE by our staff.
Our team has reviewed the CDC and WHO guidelines as well as the research they cite in their recommendations. Much of the research is based on the use of surgical face masks, which would likely prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, that is not the product that the CDC recommends. Surgical face masks should be reserved for medical workers, and so the organizations recommend cloth coverings. There is no definitive research showing that cloth face coverings protect from the disease. Research shows that far more benefits come from social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and good hand hygiene. Both the CDC and WHO remind individuals that cloth face coverings are not a replacement for social distancing and hand hygiene.
Additionally, both organizations have recommended face coverings for areas with widespread community spread of COVID-19 and where social distancing is not feasible. Thankfully, this has not been the situation in Smith County. As we have said in the past, we regularly review the case status in Smith County and surrounding areas. If we need to change our recommendations based on community spread, we are prepared to do so.
Cloth masks are not and should not be considered personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is a term used for medical-grade equipment such as surgical masks. As you have likely heard in the news, this type of equipment continues to be in short supply. Because of this, our medical team has made an effort to use PPE when medically necessary. They have not changed their process for treating patients. In all situations, whether a suspected COVID-19 case or another diagnosis, where a mask, gown or additional PPE are needed, medical staff take proper precautions.
The staff at SCMH have chosen to continue screening patients, masking sick patients, asking patients to call before coming if they have symptoms of respiratory illness, not allowing sick patients to wait in common areas, etc. These precautions are in place for the patient, staff seeing the patient and anyone who may be in waiting rooms or common areas.
We understand that many of these precautions take place “behind the scenes.” The general public may not be aware of the changes and preventative measures that we have put in place. It was never our intention to hinder access to our facility or make any patient fearful of seeking treatment. Instead, we saw a significant decrease in wellness checks, ER visits and other reasons to seek care while we were taking temperatures and restricting entrances to the facility.
Just as other businesses have been navigating the pandemic, our team meets regularly to assess our response and adjust where we need. We want everyone, but especially our most vulnerable patients, to feel like they can safely visit the hospital and clinic. Therefore, we will be working on a protocol to treat our aging population and those with compromised immune systems differently. As we develop this protocol, we will share it with the community.