Five patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus will be treated at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
State and local health officials told The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday night they did not know where the patients were coming from or if they were local to the region.
“We want to reiterate that the risk to the public from COVID-19 remains low,” the Washington State Department of Health said in a statement, using the official name of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus strain being treated. “Sacred Heart’s Special Pathogens Unit is specially equipped to treat patients with infectious diseases as well.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked Sacred Heart to treat five coronavirus patients because of its airborne infection isolation rooms, according to a statement from the the U.S. and Washington departments of health, the Spokane Regional Health District and Providence. The patients will be transported sometime in the next 48 hours, according to the statement.
“We are coordinating with local partners to safely transport these patients to Sacred Heart,” Bob Lutz, Spokane County health officer with the Spokane Regional Health District, said in the statement. “This is all being done following our jointly developed infectious disease protocols that we train and prepare for.”
More than 300 Americans previously quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan following a large COVID-19 outbreak on board returned to the U.S. earlier this week for a planned two-week quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in California, the New York Times reported. People who tested positive for the virus, including 14 in Japan and a few more who tested positive after reaching California, were to be transferred to local hospitals for care.
The first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Snohomish County last month. The man had recently traveled through Wuhan, China, the region identified as the epicenter for the virus, and began presenting symptoms the day after he got back from a trip to visit family. He has since been treated and discharged from a Seattle-area hospital.
Washington state health officials used an unapproved antiviral drug developed to treat Ebola to treat that first U.S. novel coronavirus patient. The patient’s condition improved and staff discontinued supplemental oxygen by the eighth day.
Nearly 30 countries had confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 75,000 people have been infected worldwide, and more than 2,100 have died.
In the U.S., 479 people in 42 states – not including people who came from quarantine in Japan – had been investigated for infection with the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the CDC. Fifteen people have tested positive so far, with results for 52 pending.
Sacred Heart began preparing to treat infectious diseases like COVID-19 following a 2014 Ebola outbreak, when the the federal health department chose the hospital and 9 others to host regional special pathogens units for people with highly infectious diseases. Sacred Heart was designated for people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, and it received $2.1 million from Congress to build the unit, train staff and run ongoing drills.
The arrival of the COVID-19 patients is not expected to affect hospital operations, a news release said.
The 14,000-square-foot infectious disease unit requires an ID badge to enter and has negative airflow to keep disease from spreading outside. It was equipped to handle up to 10 patients with infectious diseases. The unit was also built with a lab inside.
Jessica Baggett, a state Department of Health spokesperson, said the department was not aware of any new coronavirus patients being sent to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle or other Washington state facilities as of Wednesday night. Harborview, along with Sacred Heart, was among a handful of hospitals across the country that agreed to accept American Ebola patients in 2014.
Harborview spokesperson Susan Gregg said the hospital has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19. Two people suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus tested negative.