Commentary

Triage, L&D, postpartum care during the COVID-19 pandemic


 

The meteoric rise in the number of test-positive and clinical cases of COVID-19 because of infection with the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in states and cities across the United States has added urgency to the efforts to develop protocols for hospital triage, admission, labor and delivery management, and other aspects of obstetrical care.

Dr. Ray Bahado-Singh, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Rochester, Mich.

Dr. Ray Bahado-Singh

Emerging data suggest that, while SARS-CoV-2 is less lethal overall than the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) proved to be, it is significantly more contagious. Although a severe disease, the limited worldwide data so far available (as of early May) do not indicate that pregnant women are at greater risk of severe disease, compared with the general population. However, there remains a critical need for data on maternal and perinatal outcomes in women infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Multiple physiological changes in pregnancy, from reduced cell-based immune competence to changes in respiratory tract and pulmonary function – e.g., edema of the respiratory tract, increases in secretions and oxygen consumption, elevation of the diaphragm, and decrease in functional residual capacity – have historically contributed to worse obstetric outcomes in pregnant women who have had viral pneumonias. Furthermore, limited published experience with COVID-19 in China suggests worse perinatal outcomes in some affected pregnancies, including prematurity and perinatal death.

With evolution of the pandemic and accumulation of experience, it is expected that data-driven guidelines on assessment and management of infected pregnant women will contribute to improved maternal and perinatal outcomes. What is clear now, however, is that, without protecting the health of obstetricians and other health care workers, urgently needed gains in patient outcomes will not be realized.

Here are my recommendations, based on a currently limited body of literature on COVID-19 and other communicable viral respiratory disorders, as well my experience in the greater Detroit area, a COVID-19 hot spot.

Preparing for hospital evaluation and admission

The obstetric triage or labor and delivery (L&D) unit should be notified prior to the arrival of a patient suspected of or known to be infected with the virus. This will minimize staff exposure and allow sufficient time to prepare appropriate accommodations, equipment, and supplies for the patient’s care. Hospital infection control should be promptly notified by L&D of the expected arrival of such a patient. Placement ideally should be in a negative-pressure room, which allows outside air to flow into the room but prevents contaminated air from escaping. In the absence of a negative-pressure room, an infection isolation area should be utilized.

The patient and one accompanying support individual should wear either medical-grade masks brought from home or supplied upon entry to the hospital or homemade masks or bandanas. This will reduce the risk of viral transmission to hospital workers and other individuals encountered in the hospital prior to arriving in L&D. An ideal setup is to have separate entry areas, access corridors, and elevators for patients known or suspected to have COVID-19 infection. The patient and visitor should be expeditiously escorted to the prepared area for evaluation. Patients who are not known or suspected to be infected ideally should be tested.

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