The chairs in the waiting room are no more. Staff communicates with patients behind an old sliding glass door. The sickest ones are met outside in their cars and then escorted through the back door.
This is the new normal for Dr. William Funk, a Newark primary care doctor.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak in Delaware, independent primary care doctors, dentists and pharmacists are balancing the need to care for their patients with making sure those with COVID-19 symptoms are able to be tested, all the while trying to prevent the spread of the virus to others — and themselves.
Doctors in Delaware have been preparing for weeks, though to many it seems like a lifetime ago.
“It’s been a blur,” Funk said bluntly.
In just a matter of days, life in Delaware has upended since the announcement of the first confirmed coronavirus case: Schools are closed, restaurants can now provide only takeout, movie theaters are empty and people of all ages are urged to stay home and not interact with others.
Some have lost their jobs as a result.
READ: Coronavirus in Delaware: Tally climbs to 30, unemployment claims far surpass records; more updates
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the state has 104 cases of the coronavirus in Delaware. There are 71 cases in New Castle County, 10 in Kent County and 23 in Sussex County.
The majority of those who have been confirmed with the virus have not been hospitalized and are self-isolating at home. The ages have ranged from 1 to 90 years old, health officials said.
Hospitals have started to do their own testing, including offering drive-thru screenings. Together, Beebe and ChristianaCare tested more than 700 residents earlier this month.
Dr. Kristine Diehl, a family medicine doctor in Wilmington, and her practice began preparing for COVID-19 in early March.
“It seems like so long ago,” said Diel, who is a member of the Medical Society of Delaware’s public health committee.
Diehl said her practice is limiting the number of sick people providers physically see in their office. If her patients are sick, Diehl will first speak to them over the phone.
If she believes they should be tested to COVID-19, Diehl will send them to ChristianaCare, which has started to test patients for Delaware physicians who believe their patients meet the criteria.
READ: Inside look into Delaware’s emergency coronavirus response hub
There is still some sense of normalcy: Diehl has not canceled longstanding appointments for patients who scheduled physicals or checkups before the outbreak. She has examined a lump in a patient’s neck and refilled an anxiety prescription for another.
At Greenhill Pharmacy in Wilmington, the pharmacists have implemented a curbside pickup for patients and have even started to offer free delivery to any patient living in Delaware.
Many of the independent pharmacy’s patients are elderly or considered to be “high risk,” said president Jay Patel. The pharmacy is trying to do all it can to make sure patients are stocked up on medications — and don’t leave their houses.
Doctors are also relying more on telemedicine in the wake of the outbreak. Gov. John Carney modified his emergency declaration, temporarily lifting certain restrictions on telemedicine in Delaware.
These previous restrictions included patients meeting with providers in-person before starting telemedicine services. Patients were also required to be present in Delaware at the time of the telemedicine service.
Out-of-state health care providers can now offer telemedicine services to Delawareans if they hold active licenses in another state.
Across the country, hospitals are postponing elective surgeries in order to protect patients, including at ChristianaCare — the state’s largest health system.
Dr. Michael Rosen, a dentist in Wilmington, told his patients in an email that his practice will limit appointments to “essential and emergency procedures until further notice.”
This means no cleanings or routine dental care, he wrote. This decision followed recommendations made by the American Dental Association to postpone elective procedures for the next three weeks.
For Funk, the Newark primary care doctor, there have been drastic changes to the daily operations of his practice. Patients are no longer allowed to sit in the waiting room. Instead, they are immediately escorted to their own exam room.
Like other doctors, Funk will not see physically patients who meet the criteria of COVID-19. Instead, he sends them directly to ChristianaCare for testing. For those who might have a mild condition, like strep, he asks patients to call him from the parking lot.
Funk or a staff member will then meet the patient at his or her car, and have them enter the practice through its back door. The patient will immediately put a mask on their face.
The doctor now dons protective glasses and a mask. He won’t let patients touch a doorknob or carry a piece of paper.
“This is the cleanest place you’ll be,” Funk now tells his patients. “Cleaner than your own home.”