This testing unit should give Oregon's health professionals a better grasp of how far the novel coronavirus has spread in Oregon. (Courtesy Providence Oregon Region)
This testing unit should give Oregon's health professionals a better grasp of how far the novel coronavirus has spread in Oregon. (Courtesy Providence Oregon Region)

Starting March 18, Providence Health and Services in Oregon is processing tests for COVID-19 in its regional lab.

“We’ve been working round the clock, seven days a week since before the first case was even identified in Oregon,” said Mary Campbell, director of molecular genomics at Providence Regional Lab.

She was speaking at the lab, videotaped rather than having a live press conference.

She described her team as being “on pins and needles,” not knowing when they’d be able to begin testing.

“When we had our supplies, and we could do it, and serve our community — words couldn’t tell you how happy we were.”

Campbell said the team had been working long days without having to be asked. “Everyone’s doing it for our patients,” she said. “We have to protect our people. We have to protect our hospitals. So we can get through this.”

The lab already has samples from 300 patients and expects to have results within 24 hours.

Providence will be able to process tests for 500 to 600 patients every day.

This does not mean the public can simply ask for a test: Doctors will determine eligibility, based on whether a person is sick enough to require the test.

Providence has the necessary supplies to process tests for up to 3,000 people, with a resupply expected this weekend so that the lab can run a similar number of tests next week.

This represents a significant increase in testing in Oregon. To date, only about 1,500 tests have been run in total in the state. The state lab in Hillsboro can process only about 80 tests each day.

“Back in 2009 during the Influenza H1N1 pandemic, our lab was the only one doing this kind of testing in our state,” Providence said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have seen many advances over the last 10 years and now our colleagues in other hospital labs have the skills and equipment to do this. They are actively developing COVID-19 tests so that our entire community can be served.”

Elective surgeries canceled

In other news from Providence, Lisa Vance, chief executive of Providence’s Oregon region, discussed the reason that the region had determined to cancel all elective surgeries and invasive procedures. The goals, she said, were preserving protective equipment and minimizing patient and caregiver exposure.

Oregon saw its third death from COVID-19 on March 18. A 71-year-old man with COVID-19 died at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland.

On March 17, tests came back positive for COVID-19 for the 60-year-old woman who had died March 14 at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.

Restricting visitor access at PeaceHealth

PeaceHealth in Springfield today announced that, with some exceptions, it was restricting all visitor access at its four Lane County hospitals: PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District, PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Hospital and PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center.

The restrictions will stay in place until COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health threat.

The protocol matches what PeaceHealth hospitals in Washington are already doing.

Exceptions to the policy include:

• One support person to help a patient with mobility challenges or discharge instructions

• One support person for emergency department patients

• Two parents of a minor patient

• Two support persons for end-of-life patients and

• Two support persons for labor and delivery and mom-baby at Sacred Heart RiverBend and Peace Harbor Medical Center

The hospital staff encourage loved ones to connect with patients through technology such as cell phones, tablets and laptops.

— Kristen Hannum