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Kaweah Health announces changes due to increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

Effective Dec. 7, hospital will limit surgeries, go to online rapid testing registration, and more

VISALIA, CA – Next week in an effort to better protect the health and safety of the community it serves amid a continued increase in local COVID-19 hospitalizations, Kaweah Health will limit elective surgeries, modify visitor guidelines, and unveil an online scheduling system that will make it more convenient for people to schedule rapid COVID testing.

“As you know, the situation with COVID remains very fluid and as conditions change we have to make decisions to better protect our community, our patients, and our healthcare team,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health's Chief Executive Officer. “Unfortunately, conditions have worsened locally, so we do need to move forward with changes to reduce the risk of somebody bringing the virus into our Medical Center inadvertently.”

Starting on Monday, in an effort to build hospital capacity, Kaweah Health will reduce surgical procedures and focus on medically necessary procedures. On Tuesday, Kaweah Health will also make changes to its visitor guidelines, allowing just one unique visitor throughout a patient’s stay (excluding those in the Emergency Department). This visitor must be the same visitor each day. Additionally, visitor hours will be reduced to 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Exceptions will still apply for end-of-life patients, Labor & Delivery/NICU/Pediatric patients, dementia/developmentally delayed patients, and other rapidly changing conditions. To be considered for an exemption to these guidelines, individuals can contact the patient’s charge nurse or manager of the patient care units.

“Nobody could appreciate the power of visitation than us. We understand how it benefits the healing process and how it benefits communication between patients and caregivers,” Herbst said. “The most painful thing we ever did was to go to no visitors. We were really excited to open back up, but with the number of cases and the risk it presents to the patients and staff, we just have to really limit the number of people that are in the hospital.”

Also starting on Monday, in an effort to better meet demand for rapid COVID-19 testing, Kaweah Health will eliminate walk-in COVID testing and instead allow people to schedule appointments online. Online registration will open at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5 for appointments on Monday and Tuesday. The move is expected to eliminate wait times, improve the patient’s experience, and allow staff at Kaweah Health's Urgent Care sites to focus on those seeking care for conditions that are not related to COVID, said Ryan Gates, Vice President of Population Health. In the past month, calls to Kaweah Health for rapid testing have tripled, going from 5,317 in October to 14,374 in November.

“We have been working to add staff and providers as quickly as we can to help address this increase. We believe this move to online schedule we definitely help in a number of ways,” Gates said. “We project that we will have the capacity to offer 600 tests across all of our testing sites.”

The online platform will allow online scheduling at, up to 48-hours in advance, at Kaweah Health's two Urgent Care Centers and at its clinics in Lindsay, Dinuba, and Exeter (online registration will be available forstarting Saturday, Dec. 5 at 5 p.m.). Sequoia Prompt Care will also move to the platform next week; Visalia Medical Clinic’s QuickCare will not have the online scheduling option available.

Following a telehealth visit at their scheduled appointment time, individuals will come in for a walk-up COVID test. Results will be available same-day; text messages will be sent to those who are negative and those who are positive will receive phone calls. For those who cannot schedule appointments online, Kaweah Health's COVID-19 Screening Hotline (559) 624-4110 will be used as a message line. To maintain reasonable wait times, Kaweah Health will offer a fixed number of online testing appointments. Reminder: There is no cost to anyone receiving this service at Kaweah Health’s Urgent Care Centers or at its clinics in Lindsay, Dinuba and Exeter. Insurance will be billed. However, VMC and Sequoia Prompt Care do not accept all insurance plans, so individuals should contact each of those facilities to ensure their insurance is accepted prior to receiving services. When there are no available online appointments 48-hours out, Kaweah Health is asking that people get tested elsewhere in Tulare County by visiting the list of testing locations at

On Friday, Kaweah Health was caring for 79 patients in the hospital, eight of which were in the Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit. Thirty-three of the 41 ICU beds were occupied by patients. In early October, Kaweah Health was down to as few as 14 COVID-positive patients in the hospital on Oct. 24 from its high of 91 patients on July 25.

Earlier this week, Kaweah Health published information detailing the underlying conditions of its COVID-19 patients—hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc. Hypertension has been the leading underlying condition of our hospitalized COVID patients throughout the pandemic, followed by diabetes, heart disease, obesity, chronic kidney disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “We share this information because while everyone is at risk of contracting the virus and could require hospitalization, we want people to be extremely careful if you have one of these conditions,” Herbst said.

Kaweah Health shares COVID-19 information and regular updates, including parking and construction news, with the community on its website at and on its social media accounts.