Quarantined Hillsboro nurse says COVID-19 patient initially released
Emergency room nurse Billy Baldwin's typical Friday night took an unusual turn last week. It ended up in self-quarantine after he was among the first Oregonians exposed to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
As he prepared Feb. 28 for a night at home with his wife and baby boy, Baldwin got an unexpected call from work. An emergency room nurse at Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, Baldwin was told that he must immediately isolate himself and avoiding contact with anyone, because he had come into direct contact with a person identified as the first presumptive case of COVID-19.
"My first thought was, 'It's Friday evening and I have a wife and a baby under 1 year old at home, so what am I supposed to do?'" Baldwin said.
His quarantine was the result of a fairly routine part of his job. Baldwin had checked the person into triage on Saturday, Feb. 22, nearly a week before news broke that the person was the state's first presumptive case of COVID-19.
A moment of panic
Baldwin said the person came to the emergency room on Feb. 22 with flu-like symptoms. The infected person was released because they hadn't traveled to any regions affected by the virus and their symptoms presented a simpler diagnosis, Baldwin said. "The symptoms they had were no different from the other flu-like illnesses we had seen in others that same day," he said. "There was no medical reason to believe it was any different."
At the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia didn't advise health care workers to consider testing patients for COVID-19 unless they had traveled to an affected region or had contact with a known case.
Kaiser spokeswoman Debbie Karman declined to confirm that the person came to the emergency room and was released days before being quarantined. "We're taking care to protect the patient's privacy, as required by (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)," Karman said. "So I won't be able to confirm or comment on these details."
Wendy Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services, referred questions about the patient to the hospital.
On Tuesday, March 3, the CDC confirmed positive test results for the person who Baldwin came into contact with in late February. Oregon's second presumptive case of COVID-19 is a family member of the first diagnosed patient. That person is isolated at home.
Dozens of nurses at the same hospital have been asked to self-quarantine after it was determined they may have had contact with the first patient.
Baldwin said he "had a moment of panic" after he learned he came into direct contact with the person and had spent several days with his wife and infant child without knowing about his possible exposure to the coronavirus.
The family decided they would isolate themselves, but not separately, because they already had spent so much time together after Baldwin's exposure, he said. None of them has shown any symptoms of the illness.
'What about my baby?'
As an ER nurse, Baldwin said, he and his colleagues were well aware that they could be exposed to infectious disease outbreaks before public health officials are aware of their presence. "That's something we all come to terms with," he said.
Baldwin said several other nurses in his department at the hospital who are currently self-quarantined also have young children. He said their reaction to the self-quarantine order days after possible exposure to the coronavirus was likely the same as his: "What about my baby?"
He doesn't think he will start showing symptoms. If he does, Baldwin will follow instructions of health officials. For now, he will remain quarantined for two weeks starting from the date of his exposure, as advised by health officials.
Baldwin's lack of underlying medical conditions makes him less vulnerable to the impacts of the virus, he said.
He feels lucky to have family in the region who can deliver supplies to his house. That help is a luxury other people instructed to self-quarantine might not have, Baldwin said.
The quarantine has allowed him to do household projects and chores, such as trimming tree branches. It has also been nice to spend extra time with his wife and baby, Baldwin said. "My young one has gotten more attention than he would probably ask for," he said.
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