Navigating the isolation procedure at UF Health Jacksonville

Jim Piggott’s first-person guide to being screened for coronavirus infection

Chad Neilsen with UF Health Jacksonville's infectious disease division shows me into an isolation room. (WJXT 2020)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Throughout our coronavirus coverage, I keep getting questions from people wondering what to do if don’t feel well. We’ve been passing along the information provided to us by the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both agencies suggest calling your doctor before going to the hospital.

What I haven’t heard questions about is what happens if health officials need to screen you for potential infection. So, I called UF Health Jacksonville and spoke with Chad Neilsen, who works in the hospital’s infectious disease division. He walked me through the procedure as if I were a patient arriving with symptoms of the virus.

Like anyone else coming in to the emergency room, I was required to go through security and registration. It’s at that point I was asked to wash my hands and don a face mask supplied by hospital staff. Once I completed registration, I was seen by a nurse who took my vital signs and asked me questions about my travel history and exposure. That’s a key part of the protocol.

Wearing a face mask, I'm escorted through UF Health (WJXT 2020)

If I said I hadn’t traveled internationally and I hadn’t been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for the virus, they would run tests to see if I might have a case of the flu or other ailments. But if I said I traveled to a region where the virus is spreading such as Italy or China, I would have received more detailed questions and they would take my samples for state testing.

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The next step is where people seem to get concerned, and I can see why, because I was taken to an isolation chamber. It’s sealed off and the airflow is monitored. Staffers supervising those in isolation wear protective clothing and a face mask to protect themselves from potential exposure. From there, the head of the infectious disease division is notified, and he contacts the health department.

Chad Neilsen with UF Health Jacksonville's infectious disease division shows me into an isolation room. (WJXT 2020)

At this point, it’s up to the state health department to determine whether I should be tested for coronavirus. Hospital staff collect a nasal swab, a throat culture and a saliva sample, and sends them to the state lab for testing. Depending on how long that testing takes, I could be waiting in isolation for 24 to 48 hours before my results come back.

So, while many of us have lingering questions, it’s important to remember that we currently have no confirmed cases in Duval County. People are being monitored but so far no one has tested positive for this virus.

“We are working real hard and working with the health department to educate patients,” Neilsen told me. “If (people) have a cough or runny nose, let’s stick with horses not zebras. Let’s think of ruling out the flu, cold…things like that before we go to testing COVID-19.”

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