Hospitals set up tents to screen, separate patients as they prepare for coronavirus spread

Hospitals set up tents to screen, separate patients as they prepare for coronavirus spread

Use of some tents expected to start this week

| Published:
Tents at Holy Cross Hospital

Tents at Holy Cross Hospital

Photo from Montgomery County government

Tents are starting to pop up around hospitals in Montgomery County as the medical facilities continue preparing for a potential influx of coronavirus patients.

The tents will help the staff triage patients who have symptoms of the flu or the coronavirus. They will not be used for testing.

Having an additional area will help separate patients showing coronavirus symptoms from others going to the hospital for other reasons, the county’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, said Tuesday while talking to reporters.

Six hospitals across the county each received a tent from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service or the National Guard. Many of the tents were erected on Monday.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Service, said the hospitals might have additional tents that will be set up, as well. The hospitals hope to start using the tents by Thursday, he said.

Those hospitals include Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring and Germantown, White Oak Medical Center in Silver Spring, and Medstar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney.

Kristin Feliciano, chief strategy officer for Holy Cross Health, wrote in an email on Wednesday that the hospitals are preparing by making sure they have all needed supplies for patients, cleaning and maintaining facilities, and protecting staff.

Patients who go through triage in the tents “may progress to treatment in another tent, within the hospital, or have it determined that the best location for their care will be at home,” she wrote.

Feliciano wrote that the Holy Cross hospitals have all the staff that is necessary right now.

“I can’t comment on what the future will bring, other than we are planning for how we might accommodate any surge in patients with staff, space and supplies,” she wrote.

Feliciano declined to share any patient-related information and specific numbers of beds and ventilators that the hospitals have.

Adventist HealthCare, which operates Shady Grove Medical Center, sent a statement to Bethesda Beat Tuesday afternoon that said it is prepared for any coronavirus developments.

“As of today, Shady Grove Medical Center is serving the community’s needs with its current staff and bed capacity,” the statement said. “We reiterate that anyone with symptoms should first call their doctor and preserve the hospital for the most critical patients in our community.”

Adventist said some of its preparation includes screening patients and visitors for coronavirus symptoms and risk factors, and assessing and postponing certain elective and non-emergent medical procedures.

The facility is also performing additional training and exercises to help staff “safely and efficiently” care for the patients, the statement said. That includes temporarily restricting visitors, such as allowing only one adult visitor per patient, and screening them for flu-like symptoms.

Shady Grove’s tents were set up in the parking lots outside of the medical center.

“The other benefit from [the tents] is it also allows us to free up the capacity of the larger emergency rooms, so that they can be preserved for individuals who have more severe symptoms,” Gayles said. “Individuals who have milder or moderate symptoms that may not necessarily require attention of emergency room providers will be able to be screened in these tent settings.”

Patients with symptoms who meet certain criteria for hospitalization might get tested, but testing will not be done in the tents, according to Adventist.

Taylor Kelley, a spokeswoman for Shady Grove, declined to say how many patients were tested and hospitalized for the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, at the center.

“Federal privacy laws prevent us from sharing patient information, which means we are not able to discuss whether or not we are treating specific patients or types of patients in our facilities,” she said.

She also declined to say how many beds and ventilators were in the hospital and how many ventilators it expected to get from the national stockpile, the country’s largest stock of vaccines, antibiotics, life-support medications, chemical antidotes, and other medical supplies. Its purpose is to resupply and supplement state and local public health agencies during national emergencies.

Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, wrote in an email that daily hospital bed count assessments were being tracked by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

“It’s so important to realize that bed counts and resources change hourly, so any snapshot in time can over- or underestimate the challenges we face,” he wrote.

A spokesman for Suburban Hospital said Tuesday afternoon that he would provide answers to questions sent by Bethesda Beat, but had not done so by Wednesday morning.

Tables and chairs will be set up in the tents Tuesday and Wednesday, Piringer said. He did not know what kind of equipment would be in them.

“If they have symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, they will be assessed by a nurse or doctor and then moved on to the appropriate treatment,” Piringer said. “It sounds like some of the treatment will be in that area.”

Gov. Larry Hogan mentioned Tuesday at a press conference that drive-through testing is being considered. All Motor Vehicle Administration emission sites could be shut down and converted into those drive-through stations.

“Right now, testing requires a provider prescription. We are not at the point where we are offering general testing to the public,” Gayles said in a Tuesday news release. “We’re being very careful that the people who need the tests are getting them.”

Piringer said Fire and Rescue staff would probably assist with drive-through testing if it was implemented.

Over the past few days, Piringer said, the service’s call volume has gone down. Over Saturday and Sunday, the call volume was a third lower than the normal 400 calls. On Monday, the call volume was 10% lower than usual.

Piringer said it’s likely that more people are staying home, so the chances of a car crash, sports injury or other emergency incident are less likely.

Hogan has said the state needs 6,000 more hospital beds to accommodate an expected increase in patients.

Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore said on Wednesday afternoon that it received emergency state approval to construct a new hospital floor at the Mary Catherine Bunting Center. The $12.5 million inpatient acute care unit will take 75 days to construct and add 32 beds to its current 183 beds to help increase capacity.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at

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