South Valley hospitals change visitor policies as COVID conditions improve

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- On Tuesday, Tulare County health officials shared that weekly COVID-19 case levels are the lowest since last spring.

The county's largest hospital, Kaweah Delta, is caring for far fewer COVID positive patients than they were just weeks ago during the winter surge: 28 as of Wednesday morning, including four in the ICU.

Compare that to the hospital's all-time high of 169 COVID positive patients, including 19 in the ICU, on January 5.

"I truly believe that the number of hospitalizations is declining directly in proportion to the vaccination that's occurring throughout the county," Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst said.

Because of improving COVID conditions, Herbst says the hospital has modified its visitor policy.

Visiting hours have expanded, and non-COVID patients will now be allowed one new visitor each day.

Previously, it had to be the same person every day.

Surgery patients can have a visitor in the pre-op area, and emergency room patients can have someone with them in the exam room.

"That's a huge change and I know one that is very welcome by our community, but also by our staff and physicians," Herbst said.

Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville started allowing one unique visitor per patient earlier this month, and this week, welcomed business and academic partners, as well as vendors, back inside the hospital.

Vaccines have been offered to staff at both hospitals.

At Kaweah Delta, Herbst says 60% of employees and providers are fully vaccinated. More than 20 employees currently cannot work due to COVID exposure or infection.

At one point during the pandemic, around 300 were sidelined because of the virus.

"Things are definitely settling down and couldn't come at a better time, because our folks have been at this for an entire year now," Herbst said. "They're exhausted, they're worn out."

On Thursday, Sierra View Medical Center staff will meet to prepare for the third phase of its reopening.

That includes increased inpatient visitors; surgical/procedure patients with escorts/visitors; and clinic operations opening to escorts/visitors.
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