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Spokane’s Sacred Heart expecting four coronavirus patients; officials emphasize little to no risk to community

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 20, 2020

One of two patients infected with the coronavirus virus is transferred from a Lear jet to an awaiting American Medical Response ambulance Thursday afternoon at Spokane International Airport. The two coronavirus parents joined two others for treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Regional Treatment Center/Special Pathogens Unit. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
One of two patients infected with the coronavirus virus is transferred from a Lear jet to an awaiting American Medical Response ambulance Thursday afternoon at Spokane International Airport. The two coronavirus parents joined two others for treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Regional Treatment Center/Special Pathogens Unit. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Four U.S. citizens who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus are expected to arrive at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Thursday.

The hospital had anticipated receiving five patients, but federal officials informed the facility late Wednesday that only four would be sent to Spokane.

Local health officials stressed that the move presented little to no risk to the general public. The patients are expected to receive treatment at Sacred Heart for at least two weeks.

Two patients arrived at the Spokane International Airport on Thursday morning, prior to a joint news conference with officials from Sacred Heart and the Spokane Regional Health District.Two more patients were expected to arrive Thursday afternoon aboard the same plane that brought the first two.

The patients who arrived Thursday morning were in stable condition, said Christa Arguinchona, program manager for Sacred Heart’s special pathogens unit, which is housed in a building separate from the main hospital.

The patients were arriving in Spokane by way of Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, said Bob Lutz, chief health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District. They were being treated as part of a repatriation process back into the United States. Officials did not release any further details about the patients during the afternoon news conference.

The special pathogens unit has isolation rooms designed with negative air flow to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases, such as ebola and the novel coronavirus. Sacred Heart is one of 10 hospitals in the country with a special pathogen unit certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Providence officials stressed that patients receiving treatment in other parts of Sacred Heart should feel safe and keep their appointments.

Lutz said the coronavirus patients in Spokane presented “zero” risk to the general public. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 15 cases of the coronavirus strain, also known as COVID-19, have been confirmed in the United States.

The first case in the nation was a man treated in Washington state. The state Department of Health confirmed Thursday morning he had recovered and been released from a hospital.

Sacred Heart has a 35-person team of nurses and respiratory therapists who have volunteered to work in the special pathogens unit. Those caregivers will wear special protective gear, including gloves and masks.

Arguinchona said the team does quarterly drills and training and is prepared to care for the coronavirus patients.

This is the first time that Sacred Heart has needed use its special pathogen unit as it was intended. Federal officials make decisions about where to send patients for treatment, hospital officials said, based on bed availability.

This story is developing.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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