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OHSU coronavirus (COVID-19) response

Last updated Friday, March 27, 9 a.m.
Aerial OHSU Marquam Hill
OHSU’s emergency preparations group has been working to adapt disaster plans in place from previous disease outbreaks. (OHSU/Aaron Bieleck)

As of Friday, March 27, 9 a.m.

  • 23 COVID-19 cases to date: 11 inpatient/ED, 12 outpatient 

  • 20 tested positive at OHSU, 3 tested elsewhere and transferred to OHSU for higher level of care

  • Of 11 inpatient/ED patients: 4 discharged, 1 deceased, 6 remain in hospital

OHSU launches in-house COVID-19 testing lab

OHSU’s research community came together to launch an in-house COVID-19 testing lab Tuesday, March 24, and plans to ramp up testing in the coming weeks. Initially, the expected turnaround time for results will be roughly 36 hours.

Researchers established the lab in anticipation of a significant influx of critically ill patients requiring testing. OHSU will use laboratory-developed tests with polymerase chain reaction, in accordance with guidelines by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. 

The lab is an example of the many collaborations that have been happening at OHSU and in the health care community. In this case, members of the research community rallied to support the clinical community and testing in a drive to combat COVID-19.

Two weeks ago, there was no micro laboratory. It was constructed, stocked, staffed and operational in just 14 days. The process has been powered by a team of clinical and bench providers and scientists inspired to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. That included everything from finding the space to build the lab to finding the reagents and materials necessary for testing.

On one of the last days all staff were allowed on campus, a general call went out for labs to donate any extra TRIzol reagent, a chemical solution commonly used to extract RNA, DNA and proteins from cells that can be used in COVID-19 testing. The response was overwhelming. So, too, was the response for scientists and teams to volunteer their skills. The morning after the call for volunteers went out, 800 people had responded.

The COVID-19 lab is a contribution to preparations for an expected surge in COVID-19 patients, and testing capacity will be important in the continued effort to flatten the curve.

The lab will initially focus on providing testing for critically ill patients at OHSU. As capacity expands, it will enable testing to expand to a broader group of people.

For example, as of this week OHSU has set up a drive-through testing site at the Gordon Farber Recreation Center in Hillsboro for OHSU patients who have been directed by their health care provider to get tested and for first responders with COVID-19 symptoms. OHSU plans to expand testing when more supplies become available.

OHSU gears up for pandemic

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 remains to contain the spread of the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2.

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 activated an emergency operations center that has adapted response plans already in place from 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.

Patient care

  • Visitor restrictions: Support from friends and family is an important part of healing. But to ensure patient, visitor and staff safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, OHSU is not allowing hospital visitors, except under the following conditions:  
    • 1 healthy person who is 18 and older may visit each day, if a patient is:
      • A child or baby
      • An adult with significant developmental delay or dementia
      • In labor, or with a new baby
      • Receiving end-of-life care  
  • OHSU’s emergency preparedness group has been working to adapt response plans in place from previous disease outbreaks.
  • OHSU is closely coordinating with state and regional public health agencies, as well as area health systems, to ensure adequate supplies of personnel, hospital space and equipment.
  • An internal task force that began meeting weekly in January to discuss supplies, logistics, emergency management and necessary measures to ensure the health of patients, visitors, students and employees was elevated to an Emergency Operations Center that has been meeting for several hours daily since the first case was announced in Oregon on Feb. 28.
  • 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.
  • OHSU is ready to deploy two surge tents, when needed, as directed by our Emergency Operations Center team.
  • As of March 16, OHSU has stopped doing non-urgent procedures and surgeries, in anticipation of a surge of patients who will require hospitalization and intensive care for COVID-19. This action helps to free up space in the hospital while also conserving supplies and personnel.

Workforce management

  • On Friday, March 13, OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, announced a series of measures, including a workforce guarantee and hardship fund, designed to strengthen the resilience of a workforce critical to the health and well-being of Oregonians.
  • OHSU suspended work-related travel beginning the week of March 9, with exceptions primarily related to clinicians providing patient care to sites around the Portland metro area and Oregon. The goal is to minimize quarantines of health care workers and help to slow the spread of the virus.
  • OHSU is promoting physical distancing within the university, including by requiring non-critical function employees to work from home and minimize the number of people gathered for in-person meetings through video and teleconferencing alternatives. To that end, the university's research mission has been curtailed, with the exception of research specifically related to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of COVID-19.
  • Regarding the university's education mission, all face-to-face instruction was canceled March 16 for the last week of winter term. OHSU is preparing to transition face-to-face instruction in large classroom settings to digital delivery methods with the spring academic term beginning March 30.
  • Because OHSU’s mission carries our scientists, students and clinicians around the world, we are also supporting employees who have traveled to locations with confirmed COVID-19 cases through measures including telework, paid administrative leave and guiding them through quarantine procedures when necessary.

Community measures

  • 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 reminding our own employees 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 clinician before coming into a clinic, urgent care center or Emergency Department so that provisions can be made to minimize exposure of other patients.
  • OHSU’s Telemedicine Program offers an opportunity for patients to consult with licensed clinicians through a telephone or video connection from their home, limiting barriers to health care access.  

    In response to COVID-19, OHSU has accelerated its planned expansion of telehealth capabilities for new and existing patients:

    • By March 27, OHSU anticipates to have more than 1,000 licensed health care professionals – across its primary care and specialty care service lines, including oncology and behavioral health - available for telemedicine and virtual visits. That is an increase of more than 500% in remote access to licensed OHSU clinicians since January.

    • To aid in physical distancing measures associated with COVID-19, as of March 23, OHSU conducted more than 1,600 telehealth visits, spanning multiple counties across Oregon and Southwest Washington. By comparison, approximately 345 remote visits were completed in January.

    • Additional telehealth options, including service expansion to Hillsboro Medical Center (formerly Tuality Community Hospital) and Adventist Health Portland, are expected in the coming weeks.

Ways to help

  • Donate to OHSU's COVID Emergency Response FundFinancial donations will be used flexibly to address OHSU’s highest-priority needs in the coming weeks.
  • Donate supplies: While OHSU currently has adequate supplies, we welcome generous community donations of specific items. If you would like to donate, please bring unopened and unused supplies to: Center for Health & Healing Building 1 Loading Dock, 3303 Bond Ave., Portland, OR 97239. Drop off donations between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Items needed are:
    • Masks
    • Face shields
    • Exam gloves (non-latex)
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Lab testing supplies (viral swab and collection test kits)

No home-sewn masks at this time: There has been an outpouring of offers from the public to make masks for OHSU, which is deeply appreciated. OHSU wants to put these offers to the best use possible. However, we are not using home-made masks at this time to ensure staff and patient safety.

Fabric masks are less than ideal for preventing the spread of infection, though there are some promising results if the appropriate materials and patterns are used. OHSU is working hard to source those materials and patterns. If and when we can achieve an acceptable level of infection prevention, we will ask for the public’s help in creating masks. 

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

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