A Ramsey County, N.D., woman in her 70s who tested positive last week for COVID-19 apparently is not hospitalized.

“The information I’m getting is that the person is observing social distancing and recovering at home,” said Andrew Lankowicz, president of CHI St. Alexius Health Devils Lake Hospital. The Devils Lake hospital is the only one in Ramsey County.

Elsewhere in the Grand Forks region, the status of a case in Walsh County was still unknown Tuesday. Two administrators from hospitals in that county declined to give specifics about a woman in her 70s who this week tested positive. In Park River, First Care Health Center CEO Marcus Lewis declined to answer questions about details in the case. It was the same in Grafton with Unity Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Viscito. Both cited the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA.

While Lewis said he couldn’t answer specific questions about the whereabouts of the Walsh County woman, he did say First Care Hospital, like others across the state, is working with the North Dakota Department of Health to ensure the safety of its staff and the public.

Precautions at First Care include screening of visitors and personnel upon entrance to the facility, limiting to one the number of family members who are allowed to accompany a patient to the rural health clinic, emergency room or treatment room and a no-visitor policy at the hospital.

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Meanwhile, First Care each day evaluates the system it has in place and identifies any shortcomings, according to Lewis, noting whether a person who tested positive for COVID-19 would be hospitalized in First Care would be determined case-by-case, he said.

“We would coordinate with the state and make sure we are the appropriate facility, depending on the level of care. It depends on how serious their conditions are,” said Lewis, adding that the same decision is made before a person with any injury or illness is admitted to First Care Hospital.

“This isn’t a COVID-19 question," said Lewis, explaining the medical provider always uses its expertise to determine whether a patient should stay in its facility or be transferred to another

In Ramsey County, CHI St. Alexius Health Devils Lake Hospital is working with its health care partners, such as Altru, and with its staff to do what it can to prepare, said Lankowicz.

"We’re working together. I’m proud of my staff. I’m proud of what the communities and leaders are doing,” he said. “We’re preparing to the extent we can with the resources we have."

The hospital, for example, has canceled all elective surgeries and is following state and national recommendations to have on hand supplies that will be needed in the event of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Unity Medical Center in Grafton also canceled elective surgeries in an effort to conserve resources.

"We are prepared – and preparing – based on the ever-changing situation. We don’t know what percentage of the population could be infected,” Lankowicz said. “I’m watching the CDC website as much as anybody else.”

Meanwhile, Devils Lake residents are practicing social distancing and exercising caution, such as hand washing.

"So far, so good, but we’re continuing to monitor that on a daily basis,” he said.

While social distancing is challenging, Lankowicz believes it's necessary.

“Most of us have elderly parents or friends. They deserve that level of protection. There is a lot of personal responsibility placed on each one of us to do the right thing," he said.

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