A Crawford County, Kansas, woman who died Monday in a hospital emergency room is the first regional fatality of the COVID-19 virus.

The Crawford County Health Department released a statement on its Facebook page on Monday that the victim was in her 40s but did not say at which hospital she died. A test conducted after her death showed she was positive for COVID-19, according to the statement.

Health department officials were working Monday on an investigation of the case to identify people with whom she had contact so that they could be quarantined in their homes.

That is the fifth case of COVID-19 to be identified in Crawford County.

The department said that anyone who has symptoms of the illness of a fever higher than 100 degrees, a cough and/or shortness of breath should call 620-231-5411.

Anyone who is advised to come to the health department offices for testing also will be tested for influenza A, influenza B and strep throat.

Drive-thru testing that is being conducted in conjunction with the COVID-19 call center being operated by Joplin hospitals has produced three positive tests, according to Jordan Larimore, a spokesman for Mercy Hospital.

He said 36 people have been tested at the drive-thru testing site at Thousand Oaks Medical Center in Joplin after using the call center to screen their symptoms.

Mercy still has one patient hospitalized for the illness caused by the virus. That person, who was sent there from Bourbon County, Kansas, was admitted more than a week ago.

There is still one patient hospitalized at Freeman Hospital West with the illness, said Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman Health System. That person was admitted last week and is one of 29 people who was tested as the result of referrals by a Freeman clinic or the emergency room rather than the result of a call made to the call center.

Dr. Dennis Estep, chief medical officer for Freeman, said that the hospital will treat any patients hospitalized with COVID-19 with chloroquine, also known under the brand name Plaquenil. So little chloroquine is available that it cannot be prescribed for mild cases of the virus, those that do not require a hospital stay, he said.

Test kits for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, also continue to be in small supply for rural areas such as Joplin. Estep said large numbers of tests are routed to cities with larger populations. That means that local health providers must be prudent about how to use the supply of testing materials made available to them. Joplin hospitals have had only about 200 tests available, he said.

Baker said the call center received 1,250 calls last week. Of those, 17 were patients who use the Freeman network for medical care, and one of them had a positive result. That person did not need to be admitted to the hospital and was sent home to recover in quarantine, Baker said Monday.

Both Freeman and Mercy hospitals have made changes to their visitor policies as a result of the increase in COVID-19 cases.

"We believe that the involvement of family is integral to the treatment plan for all of our patients," Baker said. "But, given where we are with COVID right now, we have made the decision to restrict all routine visitors. So the only visitors that are allowed right now at Freeman Health System are for patients who are at end-of-life care, also for pediatric patients, patients in the birthing center and the neonatal intensive care unit."

Outpatients having a procedure can be accompanied by a driver, she said.

Mercy put in place a no-visitor policy with similar exceptions. Hospital staff will be screened and temperatures taken to detect fever, a key indicator of the virus, as they arrive for work beginning today.

Freeman also has instituted telemedicine and videoconferencing between patients and some doctors.

Estep said patients now may call their doctor's office if they just have questions and the doctor will call back rather than requiring an office visit.

Additionally, the offices of about 60 doctors have been equipped so that consultations can be done by videoconferencing rather than office visits. Estep said patients are to call their doctor's office and get a scheduled time for the videoconference.

Those doctors initially connected were able to see about 17 patients a day last week by video, but that number is up now to more than 100 per day. Freeman is continuing to add doctors to that platform, Estep said.

State numbers

There have been eight COVID-19 deaths in Kansas, 13 in Missouri and 17 in Oklahoma.

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