- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2020

U.S. hospitals are adding more beds, screening and limiting visitors, and canceling elective surgeries in preparation for an influx of coronavirus cases as testing for the deadly respiratory illness expands.

About 4,300 coronavirus cases have been confirmed and 70 deaths reported across the country, with hot spots in Washington, California and New York, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday issued an executive order to increase hospital capacity in preparation for COVID-19 patients, with a goal of adding 9,000 beds. The state will use the National Guard and partner with building unions and private developers to find existing facilities such as dorms and former nursing homes that can be converted to medical facilities.

At Rose Medical Center in Denver, staff have limited patients to no more than one visitor at a time and prohibited children under the age of 12 from entering the hospital. Visitors with cold or flu symptoms are not able to enter the medical center, and no visitors are allowed in high risk patient areas.

Stephanie Sullivan, assistant vice president for media relations of HealthONE, parent company of Rose Medical Center, said all of its eight hospitals in Denver have limited entry points where a staffer will screen visitors.

CommonSpirit, which owns Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives, is limiting the number of hospital employees who interact with patients suspected of having the coronavirus in addition to practicing infection control precautions and quickly identifying possible cases and placing patients in isolation areas.

“We are asking all of our staff and physicians to be extra vigilant that anyone coming into our facilities could be affected by the COVID-19 virus. Their focus needs to be on quickly identifying and isolating any COVID-19-infected patients to limit the exposure to other staff and visitors,” said Joann Wardrip, media relations manager for CommonSpirit.

Its hospitals, some based in California, have a pandemic or surge capacity policy that identifies locations in each facility to care for infected patients while avoiding exposure to others. This could include creating barriers within a hospital or setting up surge tents outside of facilities. Patients also could be transferred to sister facilities or other nearby health systems.

Ms. Wardrip said any capacity concerns are discussed with public health officials and other hospitals close by.

LAC+USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, a disaster resource center and major emergency room for the area, is “actively preparing for any event, including a surge in COVID-19 patients,” according to Connie Castro, the hospital’s public information officer.

She said operating protocols are in place year round, noting staff continuously review emergency operations and response plans and complete preparation checklists to make sure they are ready to handle an influx of patients with signs of respiratory infections.

“We have run drills to ensure readiness of an emergency triage process in front of the hospital, and we have worked to ensure that we have adequate supplies to care for a substantial surge of patients,” Ms. Castro said. “We are monitoring our hospital capacity actively, and are prepared to take steps to open up capacity if that becomes necessary.”

Some hospitals, including those within the Northwell Health system, have canceled elective surgeries and procedures for the time being as part of its efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Northwell, which has facilities in New York, also activated its emergency operations center in order to monitor and address the evolving outbreak from a central location and respond to the needs of hospitals including the distribution of medical supplies such as respirators, gowns, gloves and goggles.

While most hospitals are better prepared than they were 15 years ago, no facilities will be perfectly prepared for an outbreak if there is a sudden, huge influx of patients, said Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist.

How equipped a hospital is to deal with an outbreak could depend on a number of factors including space, staffing and medical supplies. Concerns about shortages in medical supplies such as respirators and ventilators have emerged as hospitals deal with increasing coronavirus cases.

President Trump on Monday said more ventilators and respirators have been ordered, but he urged states not to wait for federal officials to obtain medical supplies.

“As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, hospitals and health systems know our patients and communities are increasingly concerned how the virus is spreading in communities,” a spokesperson for the American Hospital Association said Monday. “That’s why we are working closely with our federal, state and local partners to respond to this challenge, update and implement contingency plans and stay informed with the most up-to-date information.”

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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