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Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Buchanan discuss coronavirus response

Hospital officials hope state and national protocols will be adjusted to allow for more COVID-19 testing, a cause U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan says he will support.

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  • | 1:00 p.m. March 3, 2020
James Fiorica, Sarasota Memorial Hospital's chief medical officer, discusses the hospital's COVID-19 response at a press conference Tuesday, March 3.
James Fiorica, Sarasota Memorial Hospital's chief medical officer, discusses the hospital's COVID-19 response at a press conference Tuesday, March 3.
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Sarasota Memorial Hospital staff members held a news conference today alongside U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan to discuss the local response to COVID-19 in the wake of a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus disease in a patient at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.

Both SMH officials and Buchanan said they wanted to see increased testing for COVID-19 on a local level. There are currently no presumptive positive cases of the disease at SMH, but the hospital did say an unknown number of tests from patients are outstanding and awaiting results from a lab in Tampa.

Following the news conference, SMH said about a dozen patients are hospitalized with respiratory illness and tested negative in the past 24 hours for flu and other seasonal viruses.

SMH President and CEO David Verinder said he did not consider the number of COVID-19 tests the hospital has conducted to be a cause for concern. Hospital officials said most patients who come in with respiratory issues or other symptoms will be identified with another illness.

Still, Verinder did express concern about the regulations associated with testing for COVID-19, stating the current protocols the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established limit local physicians’ ability to take action.

“Our goal is to test more and more frequently,” Verinder said.

The hospital said those guidelines require preliminary tests that rule out alternative explanations for patient symptoms before doctors can conduct COVID-19 tests. Verinder said he wanted to see regulations that allowed qualified local physicians to order tests rather than going through chain-of-command protocols.

“We do not believe people should have to be hospitalized to get tested or be precluded from testing because they test positive for another respiratory illness,” SMH spokeswoman Kim Savage said in an email.

Buchanan echoed the concerns about testing response time. SMH officials said they would need to be trained to conduct COVID-19 tests at the hospital, but they believed they have the necessary resources to handle that responsibility. Buchanan said he would advocate for local testing in Sarasota.

“It needs to be done here,” Buchanan said.

SMH officials outlined their approach to dealing with the disease, an issue for which they’ve been preparing for more than a month. Doctors stressed that people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, should not rush to the hospital. Instead, they advised the public to contact their primary care physician or the hospital for guidance on how to respond.

If a patient is exhibiting mild symptoms, doctors will likely recommend that they stay home and monitor their own condition. If the symptoms are more severe, the hospital will work to coordinate a response that limits a patient’s exposure to others. The hospital said it has quarantined some patients exhibiting symptoms in negative pressure rooms as testing is conducted.

Hospital officials encouraged the general public to monitor for updates regarding coronavirus. Sarasota Memorial Hospital has set up a website about the disease and a phone hotline at 941-917-8799. Additional information is available at the CDC website and the Florida Department of Health website.

“The best thing we can do as a community is to stay informed,” Verinder said.


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