Sonoma County hospitals, schools, businesses, the jail prepare for coronavirus outbreak
A display screen outside a room with negative pressure inside at Vista Family Health Center in Santa Rosa will flash a red-alert signal if the airtight door is left open for more than a few seconds.
The room, one of several like it at the clinic on Round Barn Circle, is used to isolate patients with tuberculosis, flu, measles and chickenpox and contain airborne contaminants. And the rooms - equipped with a “mini brain” that monitors air flow, ensuring it's not circulated throughout the building - will be ready to treat patients should there be a community outbreak of deadly coronavirus.
“It's our job to be prepared,” said Jackie Leon, senior clinic operations manager at Vista, one of eight clinics operated by Santa Rosa Community Health, the largest health center system in Sonoma County.
The clinics are expected to play a key role in any front-line battle here against COVID-19. The negative pressure rooms are stocked with surgical masks, gowns, gloves and goggles. Doctors and nurses are ready to treat infected patients.
“We're preparing for a pandemic. ... We're not going to prevent a pandemic. We're going to mitigate it,” said Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease expert at Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods in Santa Rosa.
Many in the county's network of health care providers are preparing “for a historic event,” Green said.
“It's going to feel like what we experienced in 1968 with the Hong Kong flu, which wasn't as severe as the 1918 flu,” he said. The Hong Kong flu killed 1 million people worldwide in 1968 and 1969.
Although the coronavirus has killed nearly 3,000 ?people as of Saturday, all but 103 of the deaths have been in China where the virus originated in January.
Last week, though, fears soared in Northern California as one of the 15 people who had returned home from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and placed in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County was transferred to an unnamed Sonoma County hospital. Then news broke at the end of the week that the nation's first two confirmed cases of the virus apparently infecting people who contracted it from an unknown origin are from Solano and Santa Clara counties.
With coronavirus gaining a foothold in Northern California and the World Health Organization upgrading the risk of global spread to “very high,” local health officials and medical professionals shifted to urgent preparation and emergency planning to be ready in case the infection sickens many countywide.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said county, state and federal officials are ramping up a coordinated response to the growing pandemic.
“It is prudent for us to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about preparations underway at area hospitals and health agencies, schools, businesses, county government and the local jail.
Possibly testing patients
Dr. Celeste Philip, Sonoma County's health officer, said the two cases of possible community transmission of the novel virus will most certainly require testing people locally. State health officials said Saturday there will be the ability to test up to 1,200 people a day statewide, but it's unclear how and where that will take place.
The county now has to send any patient samples to be tested for COVID-19 to a lab in Richmond operated by the state Department of Public Health and the CDC. That could change quickly after Gov. Gavin Newsom last week said the state was short on test kits for the virus and needed federal officials to supply many more.
“We're hoping to receive some test kits (this) week,” Philip said.
Patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath who have recently traveled to places like China, South Korea, Japan and Italy or who have been exposed to someone who has traveled there would be priority candidates for testing.
Philip and other public health staff are collaborating with Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management and working with local hospitals and health care providers to ensure uniform efforts to isolate and test high-risk individuals.
“This is a major change for how we will be operating,” Philip said.
Green, the Sutter Health infectious disease expert, said staff at local hospitals, clinics and medical offices are coordinating with county, state and federal health officials for a “seamless” response to the virus.
“At Sutter, we're developing special clinical workflows, so that we'll have surge capacity to handle a lot of coronavirus patients and still have the ability to care for other patients,” Green said, adding that planning for COVID-19 has become “a third job.”