Update: Camden hospital treats first coronavirus patient

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As more and more confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) pop up each day, Southeast Georgia Health System, Camden Campus, treated its first patient this week.

“This is something we’ve certainly been on the edge of our seats waiting to see who would get hit first in the area and unfortunately it’s us … but we’re well prepared,” hospital CEO Michael Scherneck told the Tribune & Georgian Wednesday morning.

The patient, a 29-year-old woman, is from Charlton County and came into the Camden emergency room with respiratory symptoms on Saturday, March 7, according to a press release from the health system.

“She’s not a patient who necessarily fell into the (at-risk) categories and as best we could tell she hadn’t been traveling either,” Scherneck said.

Camden personnel screened her based on guidelines from The Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Public Health. She didn’t meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing, so she was treated and released.


She returned the ER on Monday with worsening symptoms.

“Despite no travel history or known exposure to COVID-19, the physicians caring for the patient made the determination to place her in isolation, admit her to the hospital for further monitoring and contact GDPH to request authorization for COVID-19 testing,” according to the release.

The state health department notified the health system Tuesday that the patient had preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. Health system personnel saw a second suspected coronavirus case at the Brunswick campus and are awaiting results on the COVID-19 test. The Charlton patient is recovering well and was expected to be discharged Wednesday, Scherneck said.

More tests on being run to confirm the COVID-19 infection and results from the CDC are expected in the next few days. In the meantime, the health system notified caregivers who treated the woman prior to isolation at the recommendation of GDPH.

“In addition, although the risk of exposure is low, the health system has made the decision to proactively notify all patients who may have had contact with any of these caregivers or who may have been in the emergency care center at the time the patient was present in order to instruct them on next steps and address concerns,” according to the release.

The health system is equipped to handle coronavirus cases, Scherneck said, and reminded people to wash their hands, disinfect surfaces and stay at least six feet away from anyone showing symptoms.

“The public can be assured that it is safe to seek care at Southeast Georgia Health System and we are prepared to assist the community as we all manage this complex health issue,” the release reads. “We have the facilities and the expertise to care for patients suspected of having an infectious disease while protecting the safety of all of our patients, visitors and team members. Both acute care campuses have negative pressure isolation rooms with specialized ventilation systems and our caregivers use personal protective equipment when necessary.”

Camden County Schools sent parents two updates about the virus earlier this week and said patients will be notified immediately if a student or staff member is diagnosed. At the time, GDPH is not recommending any school closures in Camden.

“Public health officials continue to advise best every-day healthy practices like frequently washing hands and staying home when you are sick,” school superintendent John Tucker told parents by email Wednesday. “Since the initial cases in Georgia were announced, we have been working on additional steps to further improve our existing best practices. Custodians are sanitizing high-touch areas (desktops, keyboards, bathroom fixtures, water fountains, door handles, etc.) with virus-killing products. We also are working through our Principals and school nurses to ensure students and staff understand and follow best every-day healthy practices like frequently washing hands.”

The latest guidance on COVID-19 is available from the GDPH at 1-866-782-4584, dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or through the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov.