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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Cincinnati Hospitals On Coronavirus: 'We Are Prepared. We Are Collaborating. We Are Transparent.'

Tana Weingartner
Cincinnati hospital leaders outline coronavirus plans.

As Ohio and the nation accelerate efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Cincinnati-area hospitals are detailing their preparations.

Officials and doctors from Christ Hospital, UC Health, TriHealth, Mercy, and Children's took turns Thursday outlining actions each of their organizations have taken to prepare for the disease. They all work together through the Health Collaborative.

"We are prepared. We are collaborating, and we are transparent," said Arturo Polizzi, Christ Hospital CEO. "That's the takeaway I would leave you with today."

As of Thursday afternoon, officials say they've all screened patients for potential coronavirus and sent samples for testing with all results coming back negative, though not all results are back yet.

Screening areas for the disease are being set up and triage spaces are being put in place. People who think they may be experiencing coronavirus symptoms should contact their primary care physicians or call the health department before going to a healthcare facility. Screening facilities will be coming online over the next few days and hospitals say information will be available on their websites.

Dr. Dustin Calhoun with UC Health points out for about 80% of people who will contract coronavirus, it will affect them in a manner similar to a common cold.

"Everyone in this room has gotten through a simple cold. The important thing is that we manage to maintain the functionality of our healthcare system during that so that the sicker among us can get the care that they need and those of us affected by medical conditions such as lung disease, heart problems or having a stroke or heart attack or bad trauma can get the healthcare they need in a system that isn't overwhelmed with people who don't necessarily have to be in the middle of other patients."

Calhoun reiterated that there is limited capacity to test, so the hospitals want to work together and curb unnecessary or unwarranted testing. He has said before, if you don't need acute immediate care, isolate at home - having a name to your illness won't do much.

The hospitals say surge plans are in place and they participate in a surge drill annually.

"That is built on the concept of a hospital having to bump up their numbers by about 20 to 50%," says Calhoun. "The most recent drill that we did was extremely successful in this area. These are drills where you're trying to move a whole hospital's worth of patients within about 90 minutes - actually having to physically find an ambulance who can do that and move them. This is tested and drilled. This is something the hospitals work very collaboratively for."

The hospitals track capacity for things such as hospital beds and ventilators. Hospital beds are checked twice per day and ventilators daily, according to Dr. Tom Lamarre with UC Health. The Health Collaborative also has 100 extra ventilators that can be distributed to hospital as needed.

Other measures the hospitals detailed include checking supply levels; ensuring staffing rotations and needs such as access to child care will be met; curtailing visitation; and looking at vulnerable employee/volunteer populations to see who should not be at work in order to protect patients.

The healthcare groups say they're working on making sure there are enough options for people to inquire about care without going into an actual hospital in order to prevent possible spread.

CEO Mark Clement says TriHealth has been preparing for this public health threat for nearly three months.

"We were called upon nearly three months ago by Miami University where we provide student health services to assist in managing a situation in which two of their international students were suspected of contracting the coronavirus. Our infectious disease team as well as our disaster readiness team went into work three months ago."

As the situation progresses some elective surgeries may be postponed. Each hospital may treat this differently and the threshold for making such decisions varies by location and situation.

When asked what the nightmare situation would be, Calhoun responded with reassurance.

"In my mind there isn't one because we have prepared for this."

Cincinnati Children's

Chief of Staff Dr. Patty Manning addressed what Children's Hospital is doing. While children may be less vulnerable to coronavirus, Children's deals with a large population of vulnerable kids.

"We certainly have been preparing for years for an event like this," Manning said. "We have a dedicated emergency preparedness team that has been meeting daily, sometimes hour to respond to this fluid situation."

She added Children's is ramping up its telehealth capabilities for both people concerned about possibly having COVID-19 and for potential patients with other health concerns, and staff. Emergency departments and urgent care sites are preparing for potential large-scale intakes.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.