Published on May 13, 2020

Essentia Health tests laboring moms and newborns for COVID-19

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it became apparent that healthcare providers were going to need to change the way they provided care for patients to limit exposure to COVID-19 virus.

It was necessary to identify those procedures at high risk for exposing staff and patients to the virus. “At Essentia Health, the safety of our patients and staff is at the center of our work and we felt strongly about making sure that if there was any question about the risk to people in the room, everyone was as safe as possible. And so, we categorize labor, and specifically the delivery process, as a high-risk situation,” explains Dr. Stefanie Gefroh-Ellison, an OB/GYN provider at Essentia Health.

Once rapid testing was available at Essentia’s hospital lab testing began on laboring moms when it was determined that they would be admitted for delivery. The rapid test has a turnaround time of about 45-60 minutes, and this process ensures staff know the status of every patient who is delivering. Data from across the country shows that anywhere from 10-30% of patients can be asymptomatic and not have any known exposure risk and still be positive for the virus. “With that in mind, we knew that if we didn’t test, we would potentially have laboring patients who were exposing many other people, including their newborn baby, to the virus,” says Dr. Gefroh-Ellison.

If a laboring mother tests positive for COVID-19, there are additional precautions taken. Everyone entering the room is required to don full personal protective equipment (PPE), including a gown, face mask, eye protection and gloves. Additional protocols are in place for the newborn after delivery. Knowing if a mother and/or baby have COVID-19 ensures patient safely and PPE conservation.

For a mother with COVID-19, there are options after delivery such as masking of the mother, increased hand hygiene and distance between mother and baby whenever the baby is not nursing to prevent the spread of the virus. In some cases, mother and baby are cared for in separate rooms. If mom or baby have tested positive, we can help them establish best practices in the hospital for when they go home.

When a mother tests positive for COVID-19 prior to delivery, her baby is also tested at 24 and 48 hours of life to determine if they too are positive for the infection. This ensures the correct level of care at the hospital and once the baby goes home. “Since this virus is so new and there is not much research of positive newborns, there is the need to keep a closer eye on these babies at follow up appointments,” says Dr. Anwar.

In addition, these test results will help staff navigate through the many routine screenings and potential procedures that are performed in the hospital to avoid exposing others. Dr. Anwar adds, “we can make accommodations to do screenings and procedures, such as circumcisions in the room to minimize the risk of exposure to other patients and staff.”

In uncertain times like these, both Drs. Gefroh-Ellison and Anwar agree that the more testing we can do, the more we can learn about the virus and how we can safely care for our littlest patients.

“Our approach with testing of moms and babies has brought reassurance to many patients and the attention to detail that we are providing assures them our care is second to none,” says Dr. Gefroh-Ellison.

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