Cedar Rapids hospitals say they're prepared for spread of coronavirus in Linn County
At a press conference on Monday, the director of Linn County Public Health, Pramod Dwivedi, said that while there have been no cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Linn County yet, it’s not a question of if that first case will come.
It’s just a question of when that will happen, Dwivedi warned.
Linn County hospitals believe measures they’re taking at this time will prepare them for that day.
Starting Tuesday, anyone who walks in Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint-St. Luke’s Hospital, both in Cedar Rapids, will face new screenings upon entrance.
“That’s questions about illness and travel and having a temperature taken at this point,” Dr. Tony Myers, vice president of medical affairs at Mercy, said at a press conference Tuesday.
Hospital employees, including doctors and nurses, are also required to be screened. If they don’t pass the screen, they aren’t let in the hospital.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Well, this is just like the flu,’ or, '60,000 people die from the flu every year.’ That’s true,” Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer at St. Luke’s, said. “But they don’t all die in the same week, and that’s what we’re up against.”
Both hospitals said they are prepared to support critical care and that they have enough space to do it.
“We have 20-plus beds in the ICU,” Myers said, of Mercy Hospital. “UnityPoint has a few more. There are so many in the hospital that we can convert.”
Both Myers and Arnold also said their hospitals can create even more large, negative pressure units, where patients with illnesses like coronavirus are treated to prevent the spread of the virus.
"UnityPoint has a whole ward that they can convert, and then we can convert two floors of the hospital at Mercy to negative pressure, which increases the bed count by hundreds of percent,” Myers said.
Starting Tuesday, Mercy, St. Luke’s, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa, and Surgery Center Cedar Rapids also all suspended elective surgeries for the time being. Staff from all four locations will be contacting affected patients so they can reschedule these non-life-threatening and non-urgent procedures for a later date.
“That’s one of the reasons actually to back off of elective surgeries, so that space is potential space,” Myers said. “Space is not a problem, and negative pressure is not a problem.”
Additionally, Mercy and St. Luke’s said suspending those surgeries will help them save supplies and reduce the likelihood of virus transmission by reducing the number of people who go in and out of the hospital.