The two-week hospital closure in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Blaine County left many families and expecting mothers confused about where to go for care, such as maintaining their children’s vaccine schedule and giving birth.

Now, as routine care resumes, some of the confusion lingers on.

Some women had to be diverted to other hospitals to give birth while the hospital focused all its resources on combatting the pandemic that hit the county hard two months ago, according to St. Luke’s family medicine physician Julie Lyons. These days, things are returning to something like normal, Lyons said. Labors have gone on nearly the same as before, with added precautions in place to protect the mother and their newborn.

Screening procedures are now in place at every St. Luke’s facility. They include a temperature check and a series of questions to know whether not there is a risk of exposure from anyone entering the hospital. Women going into the hospital to give birth are allowed one support person, but the hospital isn’t allowing any additional visitors into the hospital to mitigate the risk of infecting patients or staff.

That said, women who have given birth at the hospital before have told Lyons that the process feels the same.

“Everyone’s been pleased,” Lyons said. “It’s been less stressful than they would have imagined.”

Women who display symptoms of COVID-19 have the choice of whether they want to separate from their newborn after giving birth in order to limit the risk of spreading the virus to the infant, Lyons said. So far, no research shows the novel virus can be transferred in utero, though there have been several cases of the virus spreading to newborns from actively infected mothers who touched babies without washing their hands first. However, those cases all resulted in minor symptoms to the child.

Currently, the hospital is testing infants five minutes after they enter the world, if the mother is actively infected, to check if the baby has the virus as well, and so far, only one family in Blaine County has had to decide whether or not to separate from their infant after giving birth due to active infection.

For the most part, this new normal has been a blessing in disguise for new mothers, according to Lyons. Moms now have more time to spend alone with their child since visitors are not welcome at the hospital. Besides being asked to remain in the birth room and not wander the halls of the hospital, the labor process has remained the same, creating a nurturing and safe environment for mothers and their new babies amid an otherwise stressful time, Lyons said.

In addition, mothers who have recently given birth during the pandemic are being asked to participate in one or more studies so that health experts can learn how the virus interacts with a fetus, and whether or not COVID-19 antibodies can be passed along to babies from their mother’s breast milk.

Lyons is enrolling her patients into two studies right now. One is nationwide study led by the University of California San Francisco tracking pregnant or recently pregnant people who are either under investigation for the virus or have been confirmed to have the virus. The study hopes to better understand how the virus impacts pregnant people and their newborns through a series of survey questions and access to the patient’s medical records. The second study is by the University of Idaho. It focuses COVID-19 and breastfeeding to see if either the virus or maternal immunity can be transmitted through breast milk.

So far only a handful of local mothers have been enrolled into the studies to date.

Other vaccines remain essential

Lyons urges parents to continue following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when it comes to vaccine schedules for children 2- to 15-months to ensure they are building immunity to other viruses such as the measles.

The hospital is working to contact patients who had appointments canceled due to the pandemic, but those who have not been reached should contact the hospital to reschedule appointments and get their children back on track with their vaccine schedules.

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