As we leave cold and flu season in Texoma, some of the changes put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic may be sticking around at area hospitals.

Both Texoma Medical Center and Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center have suspended visitation and that change has not lightened up. WNJ even purchased additional iPads to allow patients to connect with their families and friends.

“Once the pandemic is over use of these devices will be reduced, but will remain available,” WNJ Spokesperson Cathy Black said.

Additionally, she said the use of telehealth has been critical for WNJ physicians’ management of care during COVID-19. And that does not just apply to doctors working at the hospital. Telemedicine has been the way to go for physicians working at TexomaCare and other facilities in the region.

“If rules and regulations are opened up, we believe telemedicine will see increased usage beyond the pandemic,” Black said about the future of health care.

Also probably here to stay is the requirement that all patients scheduled for elective procedures undergo COVID-19 testing seven days in advance. They will also probably be asked to quarantine at home prior to their surgery date even if they do not test positive for the virus.

That said, even though the area hospitals expect COVID-19 will remain a part of daily routines for some time, officials and personnel do look forward to the time when they can ease up on the restrictions and allow visitors and volunteers back into the facilities.

In Texoma, the changes at local hospitals associated with COVID-19 started back on March 12 when WNJ and TMC jointly announced that they didn’t want anyone who was sick, especially if they thought they might have been exposed to the virus, to visit anyone in the hospitals.

At that point, they weren’t turning people away, but they were telling people to stay home if they were unwell.

Then the next day, the hospitals issued another joint statement saying that they were changing visitation hours and limiting it to two visitors -18 years or older - per patient, per day. In addition, the hospitals restricted which entrance could be used and said that people entering were subject to screening.

The new rules said any individual who had been in contact with someone with fever, cough or influenza-like symptoms within the last 48 hours would be prohibited from visiting and that visitors would be asked about their travel history and anyone who had traveled to an affected country identified on the CDC Travel Health Notice List, would not be permitted to enter the hospital.

About a week later, both hospitals tightened those restrictions to allow only one visitor per patient.

“We have a restricted visitation,” TMC Director of Infection Control Donna Glenn said in a news release on March 26. “It is very limited. We don’t want to bring the virus in on top of our patients. We are screening people coming in. We are screening vendors. We want to keep our patients as safe as possible. We’re screening our own employees. We are doing temperature checks at the entrances. We have limited entrances open to manage the traffic.”

In that same statement, Glenn said the hospital had made more space for COVID-19 patients by increasing its space for the type of care they will need.

“The recommendation is to put positive COVID patients in what is negative pressure. All hospitals have rooms that are made negative pressure. We have expanded our capacity by bringing in portable units so we have more negative pressure rooms. If we get more sick people we are able to care for more.”

Then about a week later, both hospitals issued statements completely curtailing visitation.

“While we are sensitive to the difficulties facing loved ones of hospitalized patients, our healthcare providers must keep patient and staff safety paramount at this unprecedented time,” WNJ said in a press release from that time. “We encourage family members and friends to use alternative ways to interact with their loved ones, including phone calls, FaceTime and other means.”

Both TMC and WNJ allowed limited exceptions for critical and special situations where visitors were allowed. Among these exceptions were labor and delivery patients, pediatric patients and end of life situations.