Triangle, hospitals making preparations, procedures for possible coronavirus patients

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospitals and first responders in the Triangle are preparing for any possible cases of coronavirus.

When ambulances head out on Wake County roads, they’re ready for all kinds of emergencies. That now includes coronavirus.

It starts at the 911 center. Dispatchers ask people who call with fever or respiratory symptoms whether they’ve traveled to China or recently been in contact with someone who has.

“When the 911 center takes that information, they will alert the crews that are responding to that scene so that we can be prepared and wear proper protective equipment,” explained Jeffrey Hammerstein, assistant chief with Wake County EMS.

Protective gear includes an N-95 mask, protective eyewear, gloves, and possibly gowns. EMS crews would then alert the hospital to take action to minimize infection risk.

Duke, UNC, and WakeMed — along with many medical offices and urgent care centers — are also screening patients for possible coronavirus. They’re asking every patient who comes in whether they’ve recently been to China and, if so, whether they’re experiencing any fever or respiratory symptoms.

Hospitals have a plan if a patient is believed to be at risk for the virus. David Weber, Medical Director of Infection Prevention for UNC Medical Center, said the plan there includes a number of steps.

“Put a mask on them immediately. Move them to a private room,” he said. “Healthcare personnel wear appropriate personal protective equipment.”

Staff would also notify the team that handles infection control and prevention.

If people have recently traveled to China and are experiencing symptoms, some hospitals are asking them to call ahead rather than just showing up at a doctors office or emergency room. That way, the staff can be prepared to take all necessary precautions.

While they’re prepared for the possibility of coronavirus, healthcare workers said the flu is currently a much bigger threat to North Carolina.

“I don’t want the attention of coronavirus to overshadow the precautions we all need to be taking about the flu,” Hammerstein said.

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