The chief executive officers of Gila County’s two hospitals gave an update on their COVID-19 preparedness Thursday, May 7.

Lance Porter, CEO of Banner Payson Medical Center, and Neal Jensen, CEO of Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center in Globe, were the featured speakers at the weekly Zoom meeting of the Payson and Globe chambers and representatives from the Gila County Health and Emergency Management Department.

Porter said Banner Payson Medical Center resumed elective surgeries Monday, May 4.

“A lot of people needing care stayed away due to fears of getting the virus. The hospital is making sure they’re very safe, he said.

Everyone in the hospital is wearing masks and everyone coming in must also put on masks — patients, the people accompanying them, vendors, etc. Porter said BPMC is continuing its no visitors policy except for mothers giving birth who can have one other person with them, and those dealing with end-of-life situations. It is also continuing the suspension of the volunteer program.

All hospital staff has their temperatures checked as they come on shift and those working in surgery are checked twice a day. He said more than 100 of the hospital’s nearly 200 employees were given COVID-19 tests Wednesday, May 6, with the rest to be tested soon.

To assure social distancing, Porter said at least half the chairs in the waiting rooms are gone and the hospital cafeteria is only open to employees, where there is also social distancing.

To further protect the health of patients coming in for surgery, the hospital has added COVID-19 to pre-op tests. The test is given 72 hours before the scheduled surgery and must come back with a negative result; additionally the patient must self-quarantine from the time they get the test until their surgery. The hospital has set aside a separate parking area, entrance and registration area for patients coming in for surgery.

Porter said they clean regularly and BPMC — “It’s probably the cleanest place in Payson.”

The hospital is still accepting donations, but for the time being has a good supply of personal protective equipment. However, since everyone must wear a mask, the usage of that equipment is going up.

The Globe hospital has many of the same protocols in place as BPMC, said Jensen. It doesn’t have a separate entrance for its surgery patients, but it has a separate waiting area. Jensen said Cobre Valley allows a single visitor for surgical patients to help them get home when they’re discharged, another person can also accompany children and disabled adults.

The volunteer program at the Globe hospital has also been suspended for more than a month. But not all employees are being tested for COVID-19, Jensen said. Only those in high-risk positions are screened for the virus.

Cobre Valley is still taking donations and other help, but he said the hospital has a fairly secure supply chain for personal protective equipment thanks to the efforts of the county.

Case updates

Michael O’Driscoll, director of the health and emergency management department, shared the latest numbers of COVID-19 cases as of Monday, May 11.

The county has 19 residents who have tested positive for the virus: nine are in the Globe area; eight in Payson; one in Pine; and one in Hayden.

Nine of those are in the 45 to 54 age group; five are 65 or older; three are between the ages of 55 and 64; one is in the 20 to 44 age group; and one is 19 or younger. Of the 19 residents who have tested positive, six have recovered and one has died.

There have been 1,087 tests administered in Gila County as of May 11 and 1,068 have come back negative for the virus. There was only one hospitalization, but that person was discharged.

Testing the public for COVID-19 is not yet taking place at Gila County hospitals. The drive-thru testing center the MHA Foundation has at the parking lot of the Payson LDS church, 913 Ponderosa St., will be available to the public beginning May 14.

It is possible the tests will continue through the end of the month to accommodate the residents of Payson and Rim Country.

Testing at the hospitals is still taking place according to the guidelines that limit it to the most ill individuals, though they have been broadened somewhat, Porter said. They are not for someone who is just curious, he added.

As for antibody testing, Beck said there are no guidelines yet.

O’Driscoll discussed the business openings Gov. Doug Ducey approved. Barbershops and hair salons were allowed to reopen Friday, May 8, and restaurants reopened Monday, May 11. Social distancing and enhanced cleaning requirements must be met. While masks are recommended they are not required, Beck said. “I don’t think wearing a mask will ever become mandatory.”

However the use of masks is up to the business owner. While not medical grade, masks for the Payson area are available at the Mount Cross Lutheran Church, 601 E. Highway 260. The Shoofly Quilters have distributed 1,400 masks as well.

Bars cannot reopen yet, O’Driscoll said. If a restaurant has a bar, it can provide service to the dine-in customers, but cannot serve from the bar directly.

O’Driscoll said no reopening date for gyms, spas, pools and massage services has been set, though he planned to discuss this in his daily meeting the Arizona Department of Health Services. The last he heard, guidelines for reopening these businesses were still being created.

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