Seattle Children’s says it has tested 660 patients for COVID-19, with four who came back positive and are now all recovering at home. Of 166 staff members tested since Friday, four tested positive.
The hospital is trying to reassure families nervous about possible exposure. The pressures from the coronavirus outbreak come after a difficult year in which the hospital has faced lawsuits over mold contamination, which was linked to the deaths of several patients.
Hospital leaders said they’ve implemented a number of protocols to keep patients and staff safe from the virus, including making greater use of telemedicine, placing limits on visitors and setting up a separate emergency room wing for patients who may be sick with COVID-19.
Dr. Ruth McDonald, chief medical officer for Seattle Children’s, said one challenge is getting enough gear. This is a widespread problem as doctors and nurses around the world battle the pandemic. The CDC reports that manufacturers are having difficulty keeping up with orders, in part because of a surge in demand and in part because of a drop in exports from countries such as China, where the virus originated.
“Unfortunately the amount of personal protective equipment that we have, including masks, has really stretched our ability to protect our workforce in some particular instances,” she said.
McDonald said the hospital is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to use face masks for longer periods of time.
As the number of coronavirus patients in Washington grows, Seattle Children’s CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring said the hospital will admit patients through age 21 to help reduce pressure on other hospitals.
In addition to treating patients, Seattle Children’s has a sizable research arm. Its researchers are working to understand the novel coronavirus, including trying to tease out why children have been less impacted by the illness, unlike with other respiratory viruses.
They’re also assisting with vaccine research. Dr. Lisa Frenkel is co-director of the hospital’s Center for Global Infectious Disease Research. She said research on coronaviruses has shown that people usually don’t develop long-lasting antibodies and that means they can get infected again.
“We’re very focused on figuring out why it is that immunity isn’t as protective because we need to understand that to be able to develop an effective vaccine,” Frenkel said.
Scientists at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute have begun a phase one clinical trial of a possible vaccine for the coronavirus. It will likely take more than a year to develop a vaccine for the illness.