Here’s how some Florida hospitals are preparing for a global epidemic — the coronavirus

Miami Children's Hospital doctor administering a vaccine. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At Cleveland Clinic Florida, health care providers are practicing drills, performing exercises on mock patients and using protective garb – preparations for a potential coronavirus outbreak in Florida.

The state already has at least three coronavirus cases of the respiratory disease that can be fatal, and Florida health officials expect more to come as the coronavirus expands globally.

Key preparations include mock patient training and “tabletop exercises,” according to Scott Samples, senior director of communications at Cleveland Clinic Florida, who provided a written statement to the Florida Phoenix.

Samples described the mock patient training as a comprehensive procedure for clinicians to follow if a patient with symptoms of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is admitted to the hospital.

“Our emergency management staff works with our clinical areas on how they would receive symptomatic patients, how they would manage a patient in isolation, what personal protective equipment they would use and how to safely don and doff the equipment for caregivers as well as patients,” Samples said.

“Then they discuss with the staff what they did well, what they can improve on, so it provides a training opportunity in their environment.”

“We also have tabletop exercises that bring together multi-disciplinary teams to discuss protocols and procedures, and work through different scenarios in a collaborative environment,” Samples said. “That allows people to gather in one location and discuss what they would do in a given scenario in an effort to work through them in advance of a given situation.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines tabletop exercises as activities typically held in an informal setting to discuss various issues regarding a hypothetical and simulated emergency, such as dealing with a pandemic or disaster.

“While this virus is unpredictable, we are focusing on what we can control: screening patients, training and educating our caregivers, making sure hospital processes are in place and educating the public,” Samples added.

Health clinics and hospitals across the state have said that they’ve been following guidelines from health officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health.

And the CDC said in a press call on Tuesday that they’ve been hosting frequent conference calls with thousands of clinicians across the nation, offering recommendations for preventative actions that include: washing hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and discarding it, and staying away from people who are sick.

Many Florida doctors suggest that people should use alcohol-based soap and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the China-born disease.

At Baptist Health, a hospital in Jacksonville, preparations include “placing signs at key entrances to advise patients to immediately place a mask on their faces if they are experiencing fever or respiratory illness,” said Cindy Hamilton, the hospital’s executive director of corporate communications.

“Masks can be found at infection prevention stations located throughout all campuses,” Hamilton said in a written statement to the Phoenix.

Other precautions at the Jacksonville facility involve providing personal protective equipment for clinical team members, including gowns, gloves, respirator masks and eye protection, Hamilton said.

On Monday, Florida confirmed two cases of the respiratory illness, known as COVID-19, and Tuesday, a third person tested positive, pending confirmation at the CDC.

After much criticism over transparency issues, the state health department recently updated its website to provide details about potential coronavirus cases – including confirmed and “presumptive positive” cases, which are positive test results awaiting confirmation from the CDC.

Hamilton also noted that the facility has isolation rooms for treating patients with suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus.

“These negative-pressure rooms are specially designed so that airborne pathogens remain fully isolated,” Hamilton said. “Baptist Health has isolation rooms system wide.”

“Because this is a novel virus, we expect the situation to evolve…we will continue to monitor and adapt to the situation,“ noted Samples, of the Cleveland Clinic.