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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

COVID-19: How One Sarasota Hospital Is Preparing For Coronavirus

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Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
Sarasota Memorial Hospital chief medical officer James Fiorica addresses a press conference Tuesday, with Congressman Vern Buchanan to his right

Local hospitals are preparing for the possibility of a surge in coronavirus cases. At Sarasota Memorial Hospital, officials on Tuesday said about a dozen people are awaiting test results for coronavirus, after testing negative for flu and other common viruses that cause similar symptoms including coughing, fever and shortness of breath.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital president and CEO David Verinder said faster and more widely available testing is needed, after a Manatee County man was hospitalized at a nearby facility with COVID-19, and no recent history of travel.

Currently just three labs in Florida are able to do coronavirus testing, and those are in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville.

First, patients must go through a battery of tests for other, common circulating viruses at this time of year. Only if these are negative, can a coronavirus test be ordered.

A Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday there is currently a bottleneck of coronavirus tests in Tampa, and they do not have a clear idea when the results will come in for about a dozen that were sent out.

WUSF's Kerry Sheridan sat down with Verinder to talk about the testing issues and what Sarasota Memorial is doing to prepare for COVID-19. 

A person from Manatee County who was hospitalized at a different hospital has tested positive for COVID-19. Does that mean that it's here and people should be concerned?

"Does it heighten our interest? Certainly. So we're testing more, we're looking more, people are more aware of that's going on right now. But I don't think you should draw conclusions to what else that means," Verinder said.

It's just that he has no apparent history of travel so could that indicate community spread is happening?

"It's certainly a possibility, but I like to just deal in fact, and preparedness. So I think we're prepared. If there's a lot more patients, or a lot more people in this community that could test positive for it, we're prepared for that. But we don't have any indication that would be the case -- at this point."

Let me ask you about the preparedness at a hospital level. Are you planning ahead for a worst case scenario? If many healthcare workers were exposed and became ill? How do you handle those sorts of situations?

"So we're doing our best to keep everybody in certain modules so we don't have cross contamination. Because what the worst case scenario is, is that you have a patient that didn't get identified and was in the general population and got touched by 20% of your employees at some point and then you have a real problem. Our goal is to keep the patients with respiratory illness confined to certain groups of employees, so we don't have a cross contamination issue. It's multiple times a day we're going back through and looking at our processes looking at where patients are trying to manage the volume that we have and keeping people safe."

What kind of volume are you looking at? Is it going up now?

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Credit Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
Congressman Vern Buchanan, followed by Sarasota Memorial Hospital CEO David Verinder, arrive at a press conference Tuesday to discuss coronavirus.

"It is. We were having record volumes. The hospital is very full. The ERs are very full. Our ICUs are very full. Everything is full right now. But we are managing our patients in a safe manner."

And is it full because of coronavirus fears?

"No, I wouldn't say that we have we have been growing at a pretty good clip for the last several years. March is traditionally our very busiest month of the year in Sarasota every year. Okay? So we know we're going to have an influx. Certainly we always have an influx of respiratory patients at this time of year. So right now, it's no different. It's just heightened because we're trying to make sure that we're separating patients and not having any anybody be able to spread between patients and staff members."

And do you need more resources?

"My biggest concern is to be able to get testing done in a much quicker way, so we know what we have. So what happens right now is we'll have somebody comes in, and they're going through a litany of tests (for other possible viruses). It may take two or three days to do that, while you're tying up a bed, you're tying up a negative pressure room, an isolation room, and that's jamming up the process. So what I want to have happen is I want to have our qualified physicians be able to order to test directly without having to go through a process, through the CDC. And I want the capability of Tampa to expand dramatically to do more tests per day or have more sites simply to get more capacity to do tests in a quickler way."