KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hospitals are used to handling outbreaks, but the spread of coronavirus requires different protocol.
Every HCA Midwest Health hospital is screening people as they walk in the doors. They also have closed some entrances to keep the screenings more organized.
Visitors will be asked if they have had any flu-like symptoms and if they have been out of the country or in contact with someone who has coronavirus within the past two weeks.
"If the visitor answers questions positively, then we're asking if they would refrain from entering the building and stay home until they don’t have symptoms anymore," said Kimberly Megow, division chief medical officer at HCA Midwest Health. "There are exceptions, of course. If they’re trying to get to a family member in a life-or-death situation we’ll work with those folks one-on-one."
Hospitals are doing this because they expect to see more patients with coronavirus. Officials are educating staff and issuing personal protective equipment like masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.
"We're securing additional supplies, education and equipment that we anticipate needing to care for these patients," Megow said. "Currently, we have enough of what we need. We don't know how long we'll have enough, but we've taken every precaution we could."
Megow said the level of preparations is warranted – hysteria, however, is not. She said most people who contract coronavirus will not need to go to the hospital.
HCA Midwest Health has tested several people who have all tested negative.
"Lots of phone calls are coming in with questions about, ‘What do I need to do? Should I come in? Am I going to die?’” Megow said. “Unfortunately, there will be people who end up in the hospital. And we expect there will be some deaths, as there are from flu every year. We can't predict how many that would be. We do anticipate it to be a higher volume of patients. So for us in health care, it is important for us to be serious about our preparations."
What makes coronavirus, or COVID-19, different is that it is a novel virus, meaning it has never infected humans before, so no one is immune yet. That also means it is more likely to spread.
Scientists are working on developing a vaccine, but Megow said she anticipates it will be at least one year before a vaccine is ready to be sold.
No medication exists to treat coronavirus, so for now the best treatment is rest and fluids.
Health experts said anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home, but there are exceptions.
"If you are sick and need emergency care, that is a totally different situation,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System. “In that situation, you would do what you always do. Call 911 and you would get to an emergency room.”
HCA Midwest Health offers a Care Navigator, which allows patients to receive virtual medical care rather than going in-person.