Sanford Health lifts some visitor restrictions

Guidelines protect patients and staff during coronavirus pandemic

A female Sanford Health worker reaches over a partition to take the temperature of a woman in a face mask.

While ensuring patients are cared for in a safe and healthy environment is the highest priority, Sanford Health also recognizes that being alone for hospital stays and some clinic appointments can be difficult. Sanford Health is implementing a new visitor policy in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while also reducing feelings of isolation.

“We’ve taken a strong stand against COVID-19 to keep our patients and employees safe during this pandemic,” said Allison Suttle, M.D., chief medical officer of Sanford Health. “Because we’ve done that, including masking employees in hospitals and clinics, we can now have each patient have a friend or family member by their side in their times of need.”

As a reminder, anyone who is not feeling well should not accompany another patient to an appointment or visit anyone in a hospital. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, please call your regular health care provider — do not come in person to the clinic in order to protect staff and other patients. Those symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Medical centers, hospitals and clinics

New visitor policy, effective May 20:

  • One visitor per patient during visiting hours (8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily) for all areas except designated COVID-19 units.
    • All visitors will be screened according to current guidelines.
    • All visitors must wear a face mask (cloth or surgical) at all times.
  • If a visitor exception is made for a COVID-19 patient, that visitor will:
    • Wear a mask at all times.
    • Eat sack meals — using no trays, cutlery or dishes in patient rooms. These visitors should not enter the cafeteria.
    • Self-quarantine for 14 days after visiting.
  • For end-of-life care, visitors will be allowed at the discretion of the facility and then must follow all visitor guidelines.
  • Patients are allowed to bring one visitor with them for clinic or outpatient appointments.
    • Visitors must wear a face mask (cloth or surgical) at all times. If a visitor does not have a face mask, one will be provided.

Long-term care facilities

What this means in our skilled nursing and assisted living facilities:

  • All locations are temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice to protect the health of our employees and residents who face the highest risk of illness.
  • Friends and family are encouraged to communicate with loved ones remotely through phone calls, Facebook or video conferencing.

Learn more


White metal door with sign that says ATTENTION: NO VISITORS ARE ALLOWED
Sanford Health is updating is visitor policy for the health and safety of its patients and staff.

Photo by Simon Floss, Sanford Health

March 26 update:

Sanford Health updates hospital visitor policy amid COVID-19

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health is updating its visitor policy to protect the health and safety of its patients and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The updates take effect on March 27.

No visitors will be allowed in medical centers and hospitals with the following exceptions:

  • For births, NICU and pediatrics, one pre-determined visitor will be allowed, per day.
  • For end of life care, visitors will be allowed at the discretion of the facility.
    • For end of life COVID-19 patients, one pre-determined visitor will be allowed, per day. Visitors will need to be masked and self-quarantine for 14 days following visit.

Patients are not allowed to bring guests to clinic appointments with the following exceptions:

  • Children may have one parent or guardian with them during their appointment.
  • Adults requiring assistance may have one guest with them during their appointment.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, please call your regular health care provider — do not come in person to the clinic in order to protect staff and other patients. As a reminder, those symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.


What you need to know:

March 13 update:

Sanford Health announces new visitor policy

Sanford Health has announced a new visitor policy to protect the health and safety of its patients and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new policy, which will take effect on March 13, is intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Sanford Health clinics and medical centers and the communities we serve.

The new policy:

  • Restricts all visitors to immediate family members only and will only allow one visitor per patient.
  • Requires family members who visit a Sanford Health facility to be screened as they enter to check for respiratory illness symptoms (fever, cough and shortness of breath). They also will be asked about recent travel.
  • Limits access to a few specific entry points in each facility.

The new visitor policy follows guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The patients who enter our doors become family, and we will continue to look out for each other during this time,” said Allison Suttle, M.D., chief medical officer for Sanford Health. “It is important that we all do our part to prevent this illness from spreading in our communities by practicing good hygiene and staying home if we are sick. Let’s continue to take care of each other.”

On March 10, the Good Samaritan Society, which is part of Sanford Health, also announced updated visitation policies in all its senior living locations and services. Sanford is restricting visitations to keep residents and employees safe and healthy. During this time, only those who need to enter long-term care facilities such as employees and essential personnel will be allowed to do so. Sanford is working with families who have critical needs on a case-by-case basis.

Learn more: Good Samaritan Society visitor restrictions

These updated visitation policies follow recommendations from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also announced a “no visitor policy” at all of its nursing homes this week.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms please call your regular clinic — do not come in person to the clinic in order to protect staff and other patients.

When you call your clinic, health care professionals will determine if you need testing.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Immediately wash hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • If you are sick, limit close contact with others as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

March 10 update:

Sioux Falls area health systems confirm COVID-19 cases

Avera, Sanford Health and the South Dakota Department of Health confirm, as Gov. Kristi Noem has announced, South Dakota’s first presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state. These cases were all travel-related.

Avera confirms that two South Dakota patients from Pennington and Davison counties tested positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus) at an Avera facility. One of those patients has died; this patient had underlying medical conditions.

Sanford confirms that one patient has tested positive at a Sanford location in Minnehaha County.

Both health systems are working in concert with the South Dakota Department of Health and are taking steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect employees, other patients and visitors. This includes protective gear for staff and isolation of patients when COVID-19 is suspected.

It’s important for the public to understand that COVID-19 cases range from very mild, including some with no reported symptoms, to severe. There are cases that have resulted in death. Not everyone who is exposed to this virus will experience serious or life-threatening illness, in fact, the majority of cases are mild. Older people or people of all ages with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, seem to be at higher risk of developing serious illness.

Not everyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 will need to be hospitalized. About 80% of patients who have COVID-19 can be treated at home. The rate of patients who experience serious complications is only slightly higher than that of seasonal flu.

Typical symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Anyone who is experiencing difficulty breathing or an extremely high temperature should seek medical help immediately.

If you feel you might have COVID-19, please call (by phone) your regular clinic — do not come in person to the clinic in order to protect staff and other patients.

When you call your clinic, health care professionals will determine if you need testing.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • If you are sick, limit close contact with others as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

March 8 update:

Emerging threats task force meets daily

Sanford Health’s emerging threats task force meets daily to stay “10 steps ahead” of the novel coronavirus, said Dr. Allison Suttle, chief medical officer.

It’s a practice the health system started during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, she said. During the meetings, leaders and providers from across Sanford Health assess the current situation and anticipate issues before they become problems.

Meanwhile, people who are healthy can stay healthy by practicing everyday preventive measures.

“A healthy individual out walking around does not need to wear a mask to prevent getting the coronavirus,” Dr. Suttle said. “They need to wash their hands.”

Speaking of medical supplies, Dr. Suttle offered a few more pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t hoard supplies.
  2. Don’t panic.
  3. Understand the facts.
  4. Keep doing what we do best as Midwesterners, and that’s taking care of one another.

Learn more:


March 2 update:

First people to die of novel coronavirus in U.S.

The first deaths due to 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. have been confirmed in Washington state. Of the 18 people infected to date in the state of Washington, six have died, according to state public health officials.

The virus is now considered community-spread, from person-to-person contact, in these cases as well as some cases in other states, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 88,000 people and killed 3,043, according to the World Health Organization.

A man in his 50s died Friday, while a man in his 70s who was a resident at a long-term care facility died Saturday, The Associated Press reported. A health care worker at the same facility also is presumed positive for COVID-19, the CDC said.

Read more: CDC situation summary

On Feb. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration widened the availability of testing by allowing certain labs to more quickly use tests they develop to diagnose COVID-19.

And March 1, Vice President Mike Pence said more than 15,000 testing kits went out over the weekend. The government is also working with a commercial provider to get another 50,000 kits ready, he added.

Dr. Susan Hoover, medical director for infection control for the Sanford Health Sioux Falls region, said Sanford Health is prepared to take precautions with patients.

“Sanford Health puts the safety of our patients, staff and visitors first. All patients are being screened for recent travel history and symptoms. If that screening indicates the potential for novel coronavirus, the patient is isolated and staff members take the appropriate precautions,” Dr. Hoover said. “Sanford will then offer appropriate care for the patient while notifying the proper agencies, as identified by the CDC.”

By the numbers:
  • States with confirmed and presumptive positive cases are: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin. For the latest updates, see the CDC map.
  • In South Dakota, where Sanford Health is based, the state department of health reported that no cases have been confirmed and that there are no cases under investigation as of Feb. 27. The state public health laboratory does have a CDC test available to detect this particular strain.
  • The North Dakota Department of Health reported they have monitored 15 possible coronavirus cases as of Feb. 28, with 9 currently being monitored. North Dakota has had no confirmed cases.

Feb. 19 update:

Cases confirmed in the U.S.

The deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has infected more than 73,000 people around the world with the majority of cases in mainland China.

China is still listed as a Level 4 country for United States citizens, meaning no travel is advised.

On Feb. 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the 15th case of COVID-19 in the United States.

Dr. Susan Hoover, medical director for infection control for the Sanford Health Sioux Falls region, says hand-washing and other precautions will go a long way toward keeping you healthy.

Watch video: Refresh your memory on proper hand-washing

“Really these respiratory infections can be found anywhere in the world. So you want to have the proper travel preparation for your destination,” she said.

Specifically, she cautions that updated immunizations, including the flu shot, are important. A travel clinic can help you determine which immunizations you need and what preventive medications to carry in your luggage.

What is a travel clinic? Find a Sanford Health travel clinic near you

Avoiding coronavirus

Prevention is all about reducing your exposure to the virus. Proper hygiene is critical, including:

  • Washing hands frequently
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Practicing safe food handling
  • Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing
  • Staying home if you are sick

“Coronavirus is a family of viruses. There are several of them that cause illness in human beings,” Dr. Hoover said. “There are some that we see here in the United States and in most adults it would generally cause what we call a cold and upper respiratory infection. This is a new kind of coronavirus that seems to have emerged just recently in the human population. People are actively studying it right now to learn more about its behavior and the spectrum of illness that it can cause.”

According to the World Health Organization, the worst cases for COVID-19 develop pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. In China, at least 1,772 people are dead and nearly 70,635 are sick with the virus. Outside of China, 804 cases have been confirmed, and three people are dead.

Illnesses have been reported in 25 countries. The WHO declared on Jan. 30 that the spread of this virus is a public health emergency of international concern.


Jan. 22 update:

Health systems taking precautions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends caution when working with patients who may be infected with this virus. Sanford Health continues to monitor and follow CDC guidelines for responding to COVID-19.

“If a sick patient came to one of our clinics, we would hope that they would call ahead and say what symptoms they have and what they’re concerned about,” said Dr. Susan Hoover, medical director for infection control for the Sanford Health Sioux Falls region.

Patients with symptoms of a respiratory virus will be instructed to wear a mask in all Sanford Health locations. Patients who have traveled to mainland China will put on a mask and be escorted to a private room. Sanford Health staff working with them will wear gowns, gloves, goggles or face shield, and a mask.

“Sanford Health routinely has all of that equipment available in the case of patients who may have contagious illnesses,” Dr. Hoover said. “We need to be prepared all the time. New viruses, new respiratory illnesses could come up at any time. And we are prepared at this time of year in particular for influenza. And so that takes us a long way down the road toward being aware of people who have fever and respiratory symptoms.”

This news story will continue to develop but Dr. Hoover cautions against overreacting.

“The chance of getting things like influenza or the other types of coronaviruses that we’ve had in the United States for a long time is probably much higher than this new infection,” she said. “If you are sick, it’s always good to stay home, to protect yourself and to protect your kids.”

Contributing: Shawn Neisteadt, Katie Foutz, Courtney Collen, Jane Thaden Lawson, Keeley Meier, Michelle Erpenbach and Lonnie Nichols.

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Posted In Coronavirus, News, News Releases

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