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Press Release: Preparing For The Novel Coronavirus At OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University's sprawling west side campus. | AARON BIELECK/OHSU
February 29, 2020

Oregon Health & Science University is prepared to care for patients arriving with respiratory illnesses, and efforts are underway to ensure ongoing preparedness to include the newly named COVID-19.

As Oregon’s academic health center, OHSU is participating with state and local public health authorities and health systems across the metro area to coordinate a regional response. The goal is to contain the spread of the virus if and when it arrives in our facility.

The Oregon Health Authority confirmed the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in an Oregon resident, Friday, February 28. The patient is receiving care at Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro. State health epidemiologists are working with public health investigators at Washington County Department of Health and Human Services to identify close contacts of the case.

In contrast to what we know about influenza, we do not yet know the severity of this new coronavirus nor do we have a vaccine or effective antiviral medications in hand. Therefore, OHSU has activated an emergency operations center that is adapting disaster plans already in place since previous pandemic influenza outbreaks.

Beginning with the initial reports of the novel coronavirus in January, OHSU has taken the following measures to reduce risk of the virus spreading:

  • OHSU’s emergency preparedness group has been working to adapt disaster plans in place from previous disease outbreaks. In addition, a team plans to conduct a tabletop exercise in the coming days to test emergency processes should patient volumes increase due to COVID-19.
  • An internal task force meets weekly to discuss supplies, logistics, emergency management and necessary measures to ensure the health of patients, students, faculty and staff.
  • Patient access support specialists and health care unit coordinators are vigilantly conducting travel and symptom-screening questions, and helping with appropriate triage and masking of symptomatic patients.
  • Because OHSU’s mission carries our scientists, students and clinicians across the world, we are also supporting staff who have traveled to mainland China through measures including telework, paid administrative leave and guiding them through quarantine procedures when necessary.
  • OHSU researchers are actively engaged in exploring COVID-19, including a recent publication describing practical measures that can be implemented to keep health care personnel and non-infected patients safe. 
  • OHSU is working in close coordination with state and regional public health agencies, as well as area health systems, to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns and eye protection.
  • Finally, OHSU is reminding our own staff and the community at large that the best way for all of us to prevent the spread of the new virus is the same as we prevent the spread of influenza and other viruses: Practice good hand hygiene, observe respiratory etiquette (including by sneezing or coughing into your elbow rather than your hands), and stay home when ill.
  • With respect to patients and visitors, anyone with respiratory symptoms who thinks they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should first call their health care provider before coming in to a clinic so that provisions can be made to minimize exposure of other patients.

OHSU’s telemedicine program offers an opportunity for our patients to see clinicians through a video connection from their home. The network was useful during last year’s local outbreak of measles.

Please consult these resources for the most current information on the COVID-19 response: