As fears mount over the coronavirus, city hospitals continue to gear up for increasing numbers of cases and even more people who believe they have it, but are only suffering normal maladies.
Almost all ambulance calls now have medical technicians wearing masks and protective clothing if there is even the slightest hint of fever, breathing issues or other coronavirus symptoms. More than 1,000 people are said to have the contagion in New York State as of today.
Hospitals are now triaging patients prior to entering an emergency waiting room and directly them to special respiratory clinics or examining areas where they are checked for COVID-19 symptoms.
At NYU Langone Brooklyn Medical Center in Sunset Park, two mask-wearing nurses stand at the entrance to the walk-in emergency room, where they ask patients a few questions before entering. Guests are discouraged from entering the hospital where tight restrictions are in place for all visiting.
If the nurses determine that a person is having respiratory symptoms, they are directed to the side of the hospital to a “Respiratory Screening Room” for further symptom check and follow-up.
Meanwhile, security around the hospital on Second Avenue has been beefed up to both help direct patients to the right treatment area or to restrict visitors from entering the hospital. This is meant to keep COVID-19 from spreading from patients in the hospital already or from allowing anyone with the virus to infect patients there who may be more vulnerable because of underlying ailments such as heart disease, lung problems or diabetes, etc.
Dr. Ian Wittman, chief of service in the Emergency Department of NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, said the hospital is making rapid changes to adapt to the realities of COVID-19.
“All NYU Langone hospitals are rapidly pivoting to care for COVID-19-related illness and increasing capacity for these patients,” Dr. Wittman said. “We anticipate a very high likelihood of an increase in severe illness related to COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks.”
Dr. Wittman said patients who need “true emergency care should come to our departments and expect to receive the same excellent level of care we always provide.”
He added, “Patients who do not have severe symptoms should likely pursue care elsewhere as we need to maintain capacity for severely ill patients. NYU Langone has greatly increased our capacity in Virtual Urgent Care and this is a fantastic option for patients with urgent needs that are not potentially life threatening.”
He said the hospital “strongly recommends” that patients listen to local officials and heed warnings to limit social interactions including social distancing, and avoid unnecessary trips out of the house for the time being. It is especially important that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 self-isolate until 48 hours after symptoms resolve.
At Maimonides Medical Center, precautions were also being taken to protect patients and staff. Nearly all medical staff and security personnel wore masks and gloves to assist patients at the emergency room. Some staff indicated that because of the virus fears, it has become much busier and a bit “crazy.” But most staff said they were confident that fears could be allayed.
It has become more difficult having to restrict visitors to patients and even restrict birthing mothers to one visitor at a time and no visitors are allowed if they have any kind of illness, cold or even suspect they may be ill.
Officials said those entering the walk-in emergency who may have respiratory symptoms are directed to another wing of the hospital where they can be further checked for even the possibility of COVID-19.