Hospitals ramp up efforts to address potential flood of patients amid coronavirus outbreak

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, hospitals are ramping up efforts to address a potential flood of patients.

For some patients, that could involve being screened, tested and treated right in the hospital parking lot!

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Six hospitals in Montgomery County, Maryland, are setting up COVID-19 triage tents outside of their emergency rooms.

Many others across Maryland and Virginia are following suit, with tents, mobile command centers and drive-through or drive-in services.

Montgomery County Chief Health Officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, is cautioning residents not to be concerned if they see tents. Dr. Gayles says it’s a good sign that area hospitals are actively preparing for surge capacity.

How will these tents operate?

Officials say patients with coronavirus symptoms will be asked some basic screening questions and may be tested right on-site, depending on the facility.

If patients are suffering from something other than coronavirus, such as a heart attack, they will enter the emergency room as they normally would.

The goal is to ensure that people who are seeking traditional care are separated from those who are infected with the highly contagious virus.

At this point, the tents do not address the shortage of ICU beds or ventilators, but Dr. Gayles says, that could potentially change as well.

“When you create triage spaces like this, you do open the possibility that they could be expanded to provide other services, whether you’re talking about increased testing, standing up a mobile command center of sorts in terms of mobile hospitals such as we’ve seen in previous outbreaks. So it’s one step as part of that surge capacity evaluation, it’s not the total step, but some of the spaces could be repurposed and used to help address the surge in the future.”


The triage tents in Montgomery County are still be stocked and prepared, but they are expected to go into use on Thursday. 

Elsewhere, drive-through and drive-in screening is already being conducted, with many hospitals are relying on tele-health.

Dr. Gayles says staffing is also being addressed. 

One contingency plan involves relying on a network of volunteers to address a potential shortage of healthcare providers. He says that network is already being mobilized.