NYDN New York ‘ready’ to snuff coronavirus when it lands

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It’s inevitable: The coronavirus is without question coming to the nation’s biggest city.
While no one can say exactly when, city officials are already working overtime to stop the virus dead in its tracks upon arrival.

“The risk in New York City is low at this time, while our level of preparedness is very high,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for disease control at the city’s health department, told the Daily News. “We’re making sure all our systems are in place to receive the first patient.”

At JFK Airport, screeners from Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are already taking people’s temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers arriving from central China — where the outbreak began last month in the city of Wuhan.

At public hospitals, staffers are using a recently upgraded intake system to identify and isolate any potential cases. The system uses a series of embedded screen prompts to gather information on travel history and possible recent visits to the Asian epicenter.

The NYC Health + Hospital system added aggressive new “in-service trainings” in the last week so workers could review protocols and the “donning and doffing” of protective gear such as gloves, gowns, masks and face shields, a spokesman said.

And the city’s health department is lining up staffers with language skills that might prove critical with patients arriving from China.
“I have an entire group that does Hepatitis B work on a day-to-day basis and includes a lot of Mandarin speakers. We’re moving them to be on-call for a scenario where we have someone who’s a Mandarin speaker suspected (of infection),” Daskalakis said.

And then there are the so-called “secret shoppers,” the undercover actors who masquerade as infected patients to constantly test the city’s front-line defenses.
NYC Health + Hospitals staged one of its highest level “secret shopper” drills in December, sending four actors to two hospitals, one ambulatory care center and one post-acute care centre.
The undercover patients met with unsuspecting personnel and described symptoms and travel histories consistent with Ebola infection. All four were quickly identified, officials said.
“We were able to meet our overall goals — to identify the patient within 5 to 10 minutes of presentation — and see that the processes we have in place are effective,” said Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the special pathogens program at NYC Health + Hospitals, to The News.

One of the actors was actually taken to Bellevue Hospital by ambulance and placed in a biocontainment setting, she said.
The other three would have been transported too, but once the proper health department notifications went out, the drill organizers halted the EMS calls, the actors stopped pretending and the transfers to Bellevue were only “simulated,” Madad explained.

“The overall outcome of the exercise was a success,” she told The News. “I think Ebola is the epitome. If you’re prepared for Ebola, you’re ready for anything.”
The city proved its mettle against Ebola in October 2014, after a Harlem doctor contracted the disease while treating patients in West Africa.
Dr. Craig Spencer was rushed to Bellevue in a protective suit by FDNY EMS and was quarantined in one of the hospital isolation units until he recovered.