“For the time being, we really do need to exclude all visitors, including partners, for women admitted in labor,” Dr. Dena Goffman, chief of obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center, said Sunday during a daily leadership briefing for the NewYork-Presbyterian health care system.

The move was a “very difficult decision and not one taken lightly,” Goffman said.

NewYork-Presbyterian has also made the decision to test all women in labor for Covid-19 who are admitted to labor and delivery units, regardless of symptoms.

Goffman said there have been a number of patients with few to no symptoms upon admission, and others with atypical symptoms, who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Moreover, “many symptoms of labor and of pregnant women really mimic some of the symptoms of Covid-19,” including fatigue and shortness of breath, she added.

“As a result, these women were not identified by our usual screening, infection prevention and control, or testing processes, and therefore our practices for protection for Covid-19 were not implemented. In this case, many staff members were exposed,” Goffman said.

Testing women in labor, she added, would allow doctors to isolate newborns who may have been exposed to the virus, thus preventing outbreaks in neonatal ICUs and well-baby nurseries.

With more than 15,000 people infected with the virus, New York state now has almost half of all cases in the United States. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday called for the federal government to nationalize the effort to acquire medical supplies as states compete with one another for equipment.

Absent in-person visitors for patients in labor, Goffman said the hospital system was looking into ways to allow families to participate virtually in childbirth, perhaps through tablet computers.

“We recognize that we will need to provide additional support for moms, as well as mom and baby pairs, as they’re in the hospital through the duration of their stay,” she said.

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