DENVER, Colo. – Inside a hospital is a potential front line in the fight against dangerous infectious diseases.
“It’s very intense. It’s very high-level stress,” said Elaina Tirador, a nurse at Denver Health Medical Center.
She is part of the “highly infectious disease” team there, which can treat everything from Ebola to coronavirus.
“We have trained and trained and trained,” she said. “Everything we do is to prepare for these patients.”
This week—as they do every six weeks – they underwent another training drill, preparing for the possibility of a patient who may be infected with something unusual and contagious.
“It’s challenging to actually care for a patient when you’re wearing the whole personal protective equipment,” said Dr. Maria “Gaby” Frank, medical director of the Denver Health Biocontainment Unit.
There are 10 medical facilities like that one in the U.S., though other hospitals are able to treat patients with coronavirus, as well. Medical professionals say hazmat suits may not be necessary to treat every case of the virus. Still, the virus is attracting attention in the U.S.
“This outbreak has the potential to become a national security threat to the U.S.,” said Dr. Eric Toner, with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. “It is certainly a national security threat to China right now.”
The Center for Health Security provides research and analysis for the CDC and the World Health Organization. He said there is some concern about the coronavirus here.
“It is clear that the Chinese are not going to be able to contain it,” Dr. Toner said. “Certainly, we need to be thinking about the possibility that this becomes a pandemic. The question is: how severe a pandemic?”
If that happens, containment units, like the one at Denver Health, may not be able to do much.
“It does make sense to keep that person isolated until we know more or until they're proven no longer be contagious,” Dr. Toner said. “If, however, this becomes widespread, and instead of having five cases, we have thousands of cases now – we don't have that capacity.”
Back at Denver Health, preparing for anything infectious is a 24-7 operation.
“The world’s watching,” Tirador said.
Right now, the CDC is screening passengers coming into the U.S. through 20 points of international entry, like airports. Several airlines have also now suspended flights to China.