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University Healthy System run drills, prepares for potential flood of COVID-19 patients

‘We have designed this to be able to handle a large volume of patients,’ medical director says

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SAN ANTONIO – Officials with the University Health System said Monday their medical teams have spent the past week preparing for a response to a potential flood of COVID-19 patients checking into the Emergency Department.

In mock drills, teams separated possible COVID-19 patients from others needing non-COVID-19-related treatments.

Two tents were put up outside the emergency entrance to serve as the triage site for quickly identifying patients who may be infected with the virus. One, a 20-by-40 foot tent, is equipped with 24 evaluation stations. The second is available for screening.

Emergency teams will implement a process that will begin with an assessment at a nurse’s station outside the main emergency entrance, where patients will be given masks.

For patients without COVID-19 symptoms, standard care will be given inside the hospital.

Patients in distress who may be COVID-19 positive will be directed to indoor isolation rooms for further treatment.

Anyone who is stable but might be concerned about COVID-19 symptoms will be evaluated at the outside stations inside the tents. There, it will be determined if they need testing for the virus and hospitalization.

“We have designed this to be able to handle a large volume of patients,” said Dr. Christina Bird, the Emergency Department medical director for University Health System and UT Health. “We just don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

Bird said San Antonio is fortunate it wasn’t the first location inundated with a large volume of sick patients, and that her staff has had an opportunity to learn from hard-hit cities, therefore giving the ability to run exercises that will allow medical providers to act decisively.

“We can use that to change our processes, to make sure we’re ready to handle it,” she said. “It’s given us time to develop things like this and to do a mock run so we’re ready to go.”

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

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