Petersburg Medical Center includes a clinic, hospital, emergency room, and long term care. (Photo/KFSK)

Petersburg Medical Center is operating in “red status” after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, healthcare workers are treating local COVID patients through outpatient treatments after a recent surge in cases. As of Jan. 7 there were eight active cases in town. As KFSK’s Angela Denning reports, the medical center wants people to get tested for even mild symptoms.

Petersburg saw 10 new COVID cases within one week. It was the highest concentration of new cases the community has identified since the start of the pandemic last spring.

Dr. Jennifer Hyer, Chief of Staff for the local medical center, says several patients have been sick with symptoms.

“The main symptoms that we’ve been seeing are respiratory and fevers right now,” Hyer said. “Those are the symptoms we’ve seen, and sore throats.”

Some patients have received COVID treatment through outpatient care, which has included antibody treatments. Hyer says it prevents hospitalizations among high risk patients.

“There’s an agent called bamlanivimab (bam-la-NIV-ih-mab) or “Bam” treatment and this in the category of a neutralizing antibody treatment infusion and has been shown to help limit the amount of virus in the body,” she said.

Hyer says there are a lot of treatment options that PMC can provide for both inpatient and outpatient COVID care.

“In the home, we have the ability to have home monitoring equipment with oxygen saturation monitoring and just keeping an eye on people who are Covid positive,” said Hyer. “In house, if people need admission, we provide supportive care with oxygen, we have IV therapies including steroids and Vitamin C.”

PMC wants anyone with symptoms to get tested and for people not to try to diagnose themselves for COVID. Anyone with symptoms unusual to them should call PMC’s hotline (772-5788).

The antibody treatment we just heard about? The timing is important. It doesn’t work after someone needs oxygen and is hospitalized.

Liz Bacom, PMC’s Infection Prevention Manager, says they have a liberal checklist for who should be tested for COVID because symptoms can be dramatically different from person to person, even within the same household.

“Some people may have diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Another person in the same household could have a cough and shortness of breath and fevers,” said Bacom. “And someone else may only have sore throat and someone else may only have a fever and nothing else. And someone else may have fatigue and body aches. And the last person may have all of it. So, it’s very challenging to try to tease out what is and what isn’t.”

It’s important to know what’s unusual for the individual. If they have allergy symptoms every day, that’s not necessarily Covid. If a person all of a sudden gets a runny nose or sore throat, it could be.

Nurse Manager, Jennifer Bryner, says a lot of the local cases this past year have been people who had symptoms that were so mild they didn’t think they could have COVID.  

“A lot of times they’ve had what they thought was like a mild head cold. Or, they had just a very slight cough or they were just a little congested or a little bit of a sore throat,” Bryner said. “So, they can be these very mild symptoms that a lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s not nearly bad enough to be Covid’.”

However, by the time a person has symptoms, it could be too late for others. The person could have already been spreading the virus to other people who could then have complications, says Phil Hofstetter. He’s the medical center’s CEO.

“The most transmission occurs with folks who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic,” Hofstetter said. “So, people walking around not knowing that they have it is a concern.”

There are many risk factors for getting complications from COVID but they include high blood pressure, obesity, being a smoker, having diabetes, or being auto-immune compromised. Hofstetter says PMC is planning to open up asymptomatic testing to the general public and they’ll be releasing information about that soon.

Also, PMC is wanting to get more people vaccinated for COVID-19. As of the beginning of January, they had about 450 people on a waiting list wanting to get the vaccine. Click here to sign up for the vaccine. They are working through the tiers that the federal and state governments have approved. They have already given the vaccine to many healthcare workers, long term care residents, and emergency responders. Seniors 65 and older are next in line for vaccinations starting January 11.

“More and more information will be coming out as the number of vaccines available to use increases and the restrictions for who gets it keeps loosening as they go through the phases,” said Bryner. “So, I’m talking to the state most days asking for more and more.”

People cannot get the virus from the vaccine because there is no live virus in the vaccine.

Here is the full half-hour interview with PMC leadership.


Because of the recent local cases, Petersburg’s schools are distance learning only this week. Viking Swim Club has also canceled its practices this week.