OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in Athens. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

By Ben Peters

Athens NEWS Associate Editor

All OhioHealth care facilities, including O’Bleness Hospital, began restricting inpatient and emergency department visitors from entering, with few exceptions, on Nov. 18 as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the state and hospital systems become overwhelmed.

Exceptions to the rule include those in inpatient surgery who may have one visitor the day of their surgery, inpatients with impairments, inpatients who are minors, maternity patients, and end-of-life patients, according to a news release from the hospital system.

Those allowed by exception must be free of any COVID-19 symptoms for at least 24 hours and have no exposure to the virus for 10 days. They must wear a mask, frequently sanitize their hands and remain with the patient or within the designated waiting area.

Visitors continue to not be permitted in physician practices, urgent care locations, free-standing emergency departments and other outpatient locations.

Leaders of hospital systems across the state, including The Cleveland Clinic, spoke Monday during Gov. Mike DeWine’s press briefing where they pleaded with Ohioans to change their behaviors and avoid contact with others to slow spread since surge in cases is resulting in hospitals becoming overwhelmed, not because of a lack of intensive care unit beds, but because employees are falling ill with the virus or becoming exposed, leading to a shortage in health care workers.

A spokesperson for OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital said last week that staffing will become one of its biggest challenges if team members fall ill in the future.

“We’re seeing record number of patients in hospitals due to a COVID-19 diagnosis. And many of them are very ill. It’s no different at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. If the upward trend continues, it could potentially stretch us to capacity,” spokesperson Sydney Webber said in a statement.

ICU beds could also become a problem for O’Bleness should there be a surge in hospitalizations since it only has eight available. Several OhioHealth sites across the state, however, have been designated as locations to care for a surge of critical care patients in case O’Bleness were to become overwhelmed, including Riverside Methodist Hospital, Grant Medical Center, Doctors Hospital, Mansfield Hospital and Marion General Hospital.

Although the vast majority of cases in Athens County are among people ages 20-29, cases of COVID-19 in the county have for the first time shifted away from younger demographics toward older residents in what’s been described by public health officials as community spread that couldn’t be traced back to Ohio University student activity.

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