Sarah Scott, RN, demonstrates pulling prescribed medication from a medicine cabinet Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima, Wash.

YAKIMA, Wash. — As hand sanitizer, masks and gloves are becoming more difficult to acquire for the escalating battle against the novel coronavirus, medical providers in Yakima County continue to ration supplies while following guidelines to keep health care personnel safe.

So far, it's worked for Virginia Mason Memorial hospital and its clinics. Staff "have been very careful about our supply," said Carole E. Peet, the CEO of Virginia Mason Memorial. But there's a shortage worldwide of the items that protect those fighting the respiratory virus, and that's troubling. People in some other locations have started sewing masks out of fabric.

"There could come a day that we don't have the equipment we need to keep our work force safe. That is our No. 1 priority. We have a limited (health care) work force in Yakima County" and it's crucial employees are protected so they are healthy and can treat patients sickened by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with all the others needing treatment, she said.

On Friday, Peet and Dr. Tanny Davenport, chief of quality and safety, spoke about Virginia Mason Memorial's latest efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Some in the community have started donating items health care workers could use, Peet said.

The greatest need is hand sanitizer, she said. "We're starting to think about other things we can use," such as construction masks, she said.

"We don't want to be sitting here making masks out of fabric in a week," she said. At the same time, "we do have a team that is looking at ... making masks, what kind of specifications there are."

New measures

Also Friday, the hospital announced steps further limiting access to the hospital to prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures. Those efforts will help to preserve staff, personal protective equipment and patient care supplies; ensure staff and patient safety; and expand available hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.

They come after two health care employees in Yakima were reported to be presumptive positive for the respiratory virus. One works at Generations OB/Gyn clinic and the other is a staff member at Children’s Village in Yakima, a clinic that provides more than 30 services for children with special health care needs. The Children's Village staffer had limited contact with patients, the health district said.

Potential exposure periods at those facilities are between March 8-12 at Generations and between March 9-11 at Children’s Village. The Yakima Health District is advising anyone at those sites during those times monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. Primary symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after exposure. 

Most people experience only mild symptoms. But some people develop more severe symptoms such as pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

Those who came into close contact with the staff member at Children's Village have been notified, according to an announcement on the Children's Village website, yakimachildrensvillage.org. The person is recovering at home, according to Rebecca Teagarden, interim communications and marketing director for Virginia Mason Memorial.

"It's not a reflection of a person not being careful," Davenport said, adding that efforts to limit movement in the hospital began a week ago, but other preparations began earlier.

"Over the last three weeks, we have really been preparing for coronovirus to come to our community," he said. "Since that time we have (put) best practices in place, not only ensuring facilities be properly cleaned (but also) start screening visitors and staff for fever and cough.

Peet said that began as soon as the cases of coronavirus started showing up on the state's westside. Now, "there's no place in the world now that hadn't been affected by coronavirus," she added.

Monitoring developments

Leaders huddle twice a day to focus on the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the Washington Department of Health.

"It is constantly changing," Peet added. "My main focus as the CEO is to make sure we protect our health care workforce."

They are also monitoring other coronavirus developments and keeping in touch with assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other community partners, Davenport said.

They know there's fear and anxiety about COVID-19 as cases and deaths rise. Davenport urged people to keep calm and keep doing their part to flatten the curve.

"The most important things to do at this point (are) wash their hands, stay home if they have a fever or cough and really practice social distancing," he added.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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