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UW Medicine is implementing its plan to deal with a surge of patients with COVID-19 respiratory symptoms, including the erection of tents outside hospital emergency departments for initial screening.

The surge plan should be fully in place by April 1, the University of Washington’s medical system said today in a news release. UW Medicine manages four hospitals in the Seattle area, including Harborview Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, UW Medical Center – Montlake and UW Medical Center – Northwest.

Once the plan is in effect, patients who are able to walk and have respiratory symptoms — such as cough, fever or sore throat — will be directed to a tent outside the emergency department.

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Emergency-care and acute-care staff members will conduct a brief evaluation of each patient. They’ll determine whether the patient can be treated and discharged on the spot, or should be directed to the most appropriate care setting in the hospital or at an alternate site.

“We are all building a space to meet the demand of that respiratory illness that comes along with COVID-19 as well as other things that can cause that, like influenza, which is in our community right now, too,” Steve Mitchell, medical director for Harborview’s emergency department, said in a video about the surge plan.

Each hospital is developing architectural plans to modify interior spaces in the emergency departments, to provide safe care for patients with respiratory illnesses and minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Seattle and King County has steadily risen to a total of 1,359 as of today. The county’s death toll stands at 100 and is sure to rise as well.

“We are all looking at the projections, where we know we need to prepare,” Mitchell said. “And so this allows us to expand those capabilities, but it also allows us to bring together cohort patients into a similar area, and that way we can make things more efficient for them.”

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