How HCMC is preparing for COVID-19 outbreak

Health officials at Hennepin County Medical Center say the outbreak of the new coronavirus is going to put a huge burden on health care providers in the state. 

HCMC doctors shared their plans Thursday for what they have been doing to prepare for when the outbreak takes off in Minnesota. 

Dr. John Hick, the medical director for emergency preparedness said we have seen pandemics before, but the difference this time is that, while we now have the advantage of modern medicine, the outbreak is going to overwhelm the health care system.

“What is truly tragic is that those that remember the last pandemic that occurred in the 1950s are going to die in this one potentially,” Hick said. “Honestly, in Italy in China, in a lot of cases, because of how overwhelmed those hospitals were they were getting the same treatments they would have gotten in the 1950s. We don’t want to get there.” 

Hick said they expect the number of cases of COVID-19 to double every week or so. While many people will end up infected, most will not require hospitalization.

While doctors at HCMC say they have been preparing for an onslaught of COVID-19 cases for the last couple of months, they say there is only so much they can do.

"We've done a tremendous amount to get ready for this and have as much surge capacity as possible," explained Dr. Hick. "That's not going to matter if we keep getting this doubling every five to seven days. This will overtake the health care system, no problem."

Hennepin Healthcare says it has several negative pressure rooms that are sealed and have special ventilation to send the air in the room outside so it isn’t recirculated inside the hospital.

Doctors say those rooms are used for people who come to the hospital and suspect they are infected with the coronavirus, to prevent others in the hospital from getting sick.

"We only have a certain amount of isolation rooms for these airborne pathogens or the virus particles that can spread in the air," added Dr. Hick. "But as we run out of those rooms, all the hospitals are making preparations for separate rooms for these patients and try to keep these patients separate from others."

Hennepin Healthcare says it also making sure it has enough protective equipment for all their healthcare workers, sometimes asking them to re-use masks if it’s safe to do so, to make sure the people trying to help infected patients don't become sick themselves.