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'It’s not the time to panic' | Hospitals ready if coronavirus hits Houston

Hospitals in the Texas Medical Center are working together in order to be ready in case the coronavirus hits Houston.

HOUSTON — Officials at several major hospitals in the Houston-Galveston area said Wednesday they’re prepared to handle any future novel coronavirus cases in Houston.

KHOU spoke with officials at Memorial Hermann, Houston Methodist, UT Health, and UTMB Galveston.

Several said hospitals in the Texas Medical Center are working with each other to be ready if a case of the virus were confirmed in Houston.

No cases of the virus known as COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Houston-Galveston region as of Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not the time to panic right now,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health.

Ostrosky and other health officials said they’re making sure they have enough protective equipment and the right plans to keep their staff and other patients safe.

“A lot of it centers around the health department being the central figure in coordinating the response,” said Dr. John Butler, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann.

Health officials also said hospitals and clinics across Houston are ramping up their screening protocols at entry points like the emergency room, admissions and business offices.

“We are actively screening for travel history and symptoms,” Ostrosky said. “If you detect somebody that may be at risk, we put them in isolation rooms. We are working with healthcare workers to wear protective equipment when assessing those patients.”

Hospitals are also working closely with local health departments to decide if patients need testing done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which can take up to a week to get back results.

UTMB-Galveston, which houses a biocontainment unit, trains nursing providers, physicians and other staff quarterly on how to correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We are doing what every hospital should be doing because every hospital could be housing coronavirus patients,” said Dr. Susan McLellan, Medical Director of UTMB’s Biocontainment Treatment Unit.

Because potential coronavirus patients could also show up at UTMB’s outpatient and urgent care clinics, staff members in those clinics are being trained on proper screening procedures.

“We are making sure we have some employees in the clinic properly trained to wear PPE and fit-tested for the N-95 mask,” said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, Chief Medical and Clinical Innovation Officer at UTMB.

Sharma said over 1,000 outpatient employees have been fit-tested in the past two weeks.

He also said UTMB works closely with Galveston County Health District and holds a regular conference call with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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