St. Louis nurse back home after caring for Americans returning from Wuhan

By NewsRadio 1120 KMOX

ST LOUIS (KMOX) - A local nurse is back in St. Louis -- after spending the past two weeks providing medical support for Americans just back from Wuhan, China -- who had been quarantined at a military base near Omaha to make sure they did not have the novel coronavirus. 

Registered nurse Helen Sandkuhl is the administrative director for disaster services at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.  She is often sent by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to serve in times of disaster or threat of war or illness anywhere in the world.  This time she was asked to go to Camp Ashland Army National Guard Base in Nebraska and help care for the 57 Americans who just returned from Wuhan -- the epicenter of the Coronavirus -- and had to spend a mandatory 14 day quarantine there.

Sandkuhl says these were healthy people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus while there but were not showing any outward symptoms.  She says they were called "guests" -- not patients -- because they were not sick.

The base was set up like a hotel with three buildings in close proximity and rooms for individuals, couples or families.  A team provided meals to all those quarantined.

"We also had a help line set up so that you could call anytime of the day or night if you had any concerns," said Sandkuhl.  "We had some people that were worried about having the sniffles and had some questions they wanted us to answer.  If we felt that it was necessary to visit the guest, we had teams -- it was a buddy system -- and we were dressed in full protective equipment.  We walked to the barracks and went directly to the guests room but not before calling them first to tell them we were on the way and to make sure they had their mask in place."

"Once there, we would take their vital signs, get some information, do an assessment and then we would determine if this was a person under investigation -- or do they have something that's not even related to coronavirus," Sandkuhl tells KMOX.  "A lot of the people who had been out of the country simply needed refills on medication, or they might have had a little GI upset or some other different things that were not related to coronavirus."

"We had two guests that we placed under investigation and we sent them out," said Sandkuhl.  "They were evaluated and sent back.  So we were very fortunate that out of the five quarantine areas in the United States, that our area did not have anybody that tested positive."

The other four military bases the Department of Defense identified to house returning evacuees include Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California; March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San DIego, California.  

Sandkuhl says the medical staff was very careful in their protection protocols.

"We monitored our temperatures daily and now that we have been released, for the next two weeks, the government sends us a text everyday and we monitor and respond if we have fever, cough or trouble breathing," said Sandkuhl.

But she says good prevention practices make her confident she is fine. 

The safest thing we can do to protect ourselves, Sandkuhl says, is do what we do to prevent getting the flu -- practice good hand washing, and stay home when sick.

The Department of Health and Human Services says the quarantine order is part of an aggressive public health response, with the goal of detecting and minimizing introductions of this virus in the United States.  The order will also protect the health of the returning citizens, their families and their communities said HHS officials. 

© 2020 KMOX (Entercom). All rights reserved.