BALTIMORE — If a coronavirus pandemic develops in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region, hospitals will be on the front lines, according to the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.
The center’s Director of Health Trudy Henson said hospitals, urgent care centers and family doctors need to be screening for COVID-19, the strain of coronavirus now being investigated in two additional suspect cases in Maryland.
"They are going to be the first alarm," Henson said. "They have a great responsibility to identify, protect and isolate, and also communicate with other hospitals and public health authorities."
Using previous flu pandemics as a model, Henson said most hospitals have existing plans to cancel elective surgeries and other routine procedures if the patient load surges any higher than 20% to 30% above normal.
She predicts the number may be lower in the case of coronavirus because its behavior is largely unknown, and said local health officials should be prepared to consider school and workplace closures if absenteeism rises by similar figures.
Henson added that states should be prepared to deploy homeland security stockpiles of facemasks and gowns, and prepare to activate mobile field hospitals to help healthcare facilities set up parking lot triage should a surge of patients materialize.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is already warning: "Supplies of N95 respirators can become depleted during pandemics or when otherwise in high demand," according to an agency advisory.
The CDC iss urging hospitals to plan for conserving the facemask-style respirators, should a shortage develop.
"CDC does not recommend the routine use of respirators outside of workplace settings (in the community)," an agency advisory said.