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COVID-19: Caution is still urged, regular clinic appointments open, testing available

Dr. Bryana Andert examines a patient.

It may feel like things are creeping back to something that resembles normal during this time of COVID-19 with the Stay at Home order coming to an end, and businesses and restaurants opening up. However, restrictions are still in place, and now is the time to remain cautious, say health care officials.

“There are still many unknowns about what the next three to six months hold,” said Bryana Andert, DO, primary care provider at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC). “The reality is that only roughly five percent of our population in this country has been affected. And this percentage is even less in some areas like Brown County with generally low volumes. To get to ‘herd immunity,’ or a place where we could consider presence of enough immunity to truly slow spread, we would need 60 to 70 percent of our population to have acquired immunity.

“I do think it is important that our community understand that COVID19 is not gone,” Andert said.

The period of time with the strict stay at home orders allowed health care systems across the state to become better prepared and to acquire the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) so that if or when a spike in cases occurs, they are able to handle the influx of patients.

“While I do completely understand the desire to return to ‘normal’ I believe our community should continue to be cautious and safe,” Andert said. “That looks like: wearing a mask when in public, continuing to practice some degree of physical distancing, which means attempting to keep six feet of space between people as best as possible, and of course good hand hygiene always.”

Social gatherings should be limited to under 10 people if indoors and having gatherings outdoors is preferred as much as possible. It’s reasonable to have up to 25 people when gathering outdoors.

It’s also important to stay home if you feel sick, Andert said. This includes cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, body aches, headache, loss of taste/smell, or unexplained diarrhea.

“I think the safety measures are good guidelines for all, but are even more important for those in our community with risk factors (chronic diseases, immunocompromised, the elderly),” Andert said. “I also believe it’s good for our community members’ mental health and well-being that we socialize with friends and family in safe ways. As humans, we’re designed for connection so continuing to connect safely is good for all of us.”

Included among the recent changes at NUMC that both are helping get things back to ‘normal’ and also providing new options for patients to keep them safe during the pandemic, are the reintroduction of certain types of elective surgeries and increased capacity for virtual visits.

Allina Health has created significant access through virtual visits and telephone contacts for patients who don’t necessarily need to be seen. The ability to conduct virtual visits across all of Allina Health has increased 8,000 percent. One week this spring, Allina conducted more video visits in that one-week period than it had done in all of 2019.

When a patient does need to come to the facility to be seen, they should be assured of Allina’s Safe Care Commitment. This means we will implement the highest standards of cleaning, have visual cues for social distancing, limit visitors to one per patient (with compassionate exceptions), and separate symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. Everyone — providers, staff, patients, and visitors — are screened for COVID symptoms upon entering the building, and most are required to wear a mask while at the clinic or hospital. While certain non-urgent appointments were put on hold when the virus first began, the clinic is now scheduling all types of appointments again. While it may not be ‘business as usual’ with intensified cleaning, distancing and masking restrictions in place, the environment has become much safer in terms of protection from COVID-19 for all involved.

NUMC encourages patients having preventive visits to come to the clinic for face to face visits.

“Preventive physicals and cancer screening studies are important. For our patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease it is also important to continue to be seen regularly, but in many cases these visits may be able to be done virtually,” Andert said. “If you have any questions about whether you should come in face to face or if you should be seen virtually the best initial step is to call the clinic. Our staff are all prepared and able to direct patients to the most appropriate visit type.”

Also, Allina and NUMC have resumed time-sensitive scheduled surgeries such as cancer operations, cardiovascular interventions, and orthopedic procedures.

In terms of detecting and treating COVID-19 itself, NUMC now has curbside testing available for individuals experiencing symptoms of the disease, as well as for those who may not be personally experiencing symptoms, but have been exposed to someone with the disease. Exposure is defined as being with the infected individual for greater than 15 minutes at a distance of less than six feet.

Appointments are required for curbside testing. No drive-ups or walk-ups are available. You must call 507-217-5011 to schedule your curbside test, which will be made the same day whenever possible. COVID-19 testing will be done 2:30-5 p.m. on weekdays. The test takes five minutes and is done at an outside location, which helps to keep those who potentially have the virus from coming into the building. Test results are typically available within 24-48 hours. A virtual or face-to-face visit with a provider is not required prior to making your curbside appointment, but may be requested.

Criteria for testing are continuously being reviewed based on many factors, including test kit and PPE availability, and may be adjusted in the future.

To find out more about Allina Health and New Ulm Medical Center’s approach to all things related to COVID-19, go to allinahealth.org/coronavirus-covid-19.

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