Forrest General, Hattiesburg Clinic open Cough & Fever Clinic to limit number of coronavirus cases

By HASKEL BURNS,

In the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic are partnering to open a Cough & Fever Clinic to help stop the spread of the virus by reducing the number of symptomatic patients who visit a primary or urgent care facility.

The clinic will open on March 18 at the Cloverleaf Immediate Care Facility, 5909 U.S. 49, adjacent to Walmart, and will assist patients with cough, fever and other respiratory symptoms. The walk-in clinic will be open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week, and will be staffed by physicians.

“We’re asking that if individuals have questions about their symptoms, they should call their primary care provider first,” said Dr. Bryan Batson, who serves as Chief of Medical Informatics at Hattiesburg Clinic, during a Monday press conference at the site. “It is important, in order for us to help contain this virus, that if people do not have these symptoms, they continue to use their current health care providers for care.

“Patients will be triaged and evaluated, and COVID testing will be done when appropriate, based on clinical criteria and guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control) and the Mississippi Department of Health.”

The clinic is open to all patients, regardless of age, pre-existing medical conditions or ability to pay for services. Although patients are not required to call ahead, they may be asked to wait in their vehicle until an exam room is available. If there or no other patients in the waiting room – or a small number of patients – patients will be allowed to wait inside.

Patients who currently receive services – including dialysis, cardiac rehab and endocrinology – at the Cloverleaf facility will continue to be seen at that location, and steps have been taken to ensure the safety of all patients and staff.

“This is not a drive-through clinic,” Batson said. “All patients will be assessed by medical staff and screened to determine what testing is appropriate.

“We continue to evaluate options for a drive-through clinic as testing supplies become more readily available. Please understand that this situation continues to evolve rapidly, and alterations to this plan may occur in the future.”

When a patient is presented to the Cough & Fever Clinic, staff will work to rule out all other causes of cough and fever, such as strep throat or the flu. It may take up to an hour for that process, and results of coronavirus tests can be available within 24-48 hours, depending on the lab to which the tests are sent.

“It’s a step-wise process to evaluate the patients, looking for other causes of these symptoms and going from there, based on medical evaluation,” Batson said.

Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh, assistant director of the family medicine residency program at Forrest General Hospital, said measures such as the Cough & Fever Clinic – as well as medical experts’ advice to limit or avoid social gatherings – are designed to level the number of cases of coronavirus long enough to allow medical personnel to be able to meet the demand.

“If we can hold off on cases that come into the community long enough to get resources like this built up, we’ll be in a better position when this virus comes back possibly in the fall, or when it comes back for sure next year,” he said. “So if we can level off the spread by keeping it down as small as possible, we’d have less cases, which would allow us to have more ICU beds and more ventilators.

“This virus will definitely be a human virus from here on out – humans will get this infection now for as long as we’re alive. Hopefully we’ll have a vaccine that will level that curve like we do with influenza. If we didn’t have a flu vaccine, this same thing would happen every year with the influenza infection.”

Although there is no exact timetable for the development of a vaccine, Rouhbakhsh said health experts are working toward that goal as quickly as possible.

“Wheels are in motion,” he said. “They’re working on it.”

Rouhbakhsh said so far, Mississippi has fared better than some other states, with only 10 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday morning.

“Relatively speaking, we’ve been spared,” he said. “We’ve had the benefit of seeing what’s happened in other states, and hopefully we can learn from that and have a better response.”