Managing risks of reopening

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Managing risks of reopeningWhile government officials continue to lobby for a relaxing of state mandates that shut down many commercial operations in an attempt to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks in California, the stewards of public health for the Indian Wells Valley are hoping that relief does not carry with it a spike in positive results for coronavirus.

“Speaking personally, I want to get our community opened as quickly as we can — as long as we can do it safely and protect our vulnerable residents,” said Ridgecrest Regional Hospital CEO Jim Suver.

He acknowledged that many businesses — including the hospital — have weathered financial hardship during the economic lockdown. “I am confident with adequate planning that both economic and safety objectives can be met.”

An important component of that plan will be more robust testing capabilities.

When business as usual resumes at China Lake, that will carry with it unique challenges for our remote desert community. Both the local workforce and the visitors associated with typical Navy operations and the earthquake recovery effort typically travel to or come from every point on the globe.

Only 266 tests have been administered through RRH (less than 1 percent of our population). Once travel restrictions are lifted, public health officials predict outbreaks to soar. Suver noted that under typical testing constraints and guidelines, the scope of such an outbreak may not be measurable before it exceeds our local capacity to treat.

The hospital has already acquired new lab equipment to facilitate serial antibody testing, which will hopefully begin this month.

At press time Suver was also working with Kern County Public Health Department to determine whether CARES Act funding to the county could support an expansion of testing locally to allow for contact tracing and testing in order to manage COVID-19 risks and exposure in real time.

“It is time we start moving forward,” said Suver.

The hospital has been proactive in building out its capacity and stockpiling the necessary supplies to protect RRH employees, patients and the community at large.

“I don’t want ever to test our surge capacity, but am grateful that RRH has the ability to handle the increase in patients with COVID,” he said. “I know that with some precautions for safety, our local businesses can re-open albeit in a different format if needed.”

Pictured: Lab Assistant Estefania Castro with new equipment to assist in testing. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-05-08