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The South Florida Roundup

Jackson Health Infection Control Chief Talks About Preparing For Coronavirus

Flickr Creative Commons/Hamza Butt

Florida health officials are continuing to monitor the spread of coronavirus.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 264 people are currently under public health monitoring, which means they are at risk of having been exposed to COVID-19.
There have been several cases in the state of Florida that have tested positive for the virus so far.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Dr. Lilian Abbo, chief of Infection Prevention and Control at Jackson Health System, about how hospitals are preparing for a potential outbreak.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
TOM HUDSON: How is Jackson Health, a safety-net hospital in Miami-Dade County, preparing for the first case, let alone anything more widespread?

DR. LILIAN ABBO: In Jackson, we have been very cautious and we have a lot of experience in crisis, epidemic and pandemic management. This is not happening overnight. We have gone through H1N1 in 2009. We went through Zika. We've prepared for Ebola. So we have a whole team from leaders to frontline staff who have preparedness and training in managing these situations.

This is a novel virus, and with any new disease, we have to learn as new information becomes available. Since mid-January, we have been taking steps, triaging in all our entry access points, limiting visitors. We're taking extra steps in protecting our public, in identifying cases rapidly and make sure that we avoid spread of disease.

HUDSON: This week, the state suggested to nursing home operators that they screen visitors not only with questions about, "have you traveled to the places where the outbreak has been?"--including China, South Korea and Italy--but also doing temperature scans. Are there plans potentially to institute that kind of screening at some point?

ABBO: We have implemented, following the CDC guidance since early this week, the screening of visitors asking, have they had a temperature?

Orally screening them?

Asking: Have you had a fever? Do you have any respiratory symptoms? If you do, kindly do not come to a nursing home, because we do know that the nursing home residents and long-term care facilities are not leaving the facilities. It's either the visitors or the employees that are bringing things in there.

Any consideration about the temporal scan? The actual taking the temperature as opposed just asking about a temperature?

I have concerns. We don't have the total body scanners like they have in other countries where you can walk in a machine, like a metal detector. And with oral temperature measuring, I am more concerned about the disinfection of these devices and having non-medical personnel like a security guard taking temperature. I think we do that for our patients. Of course, after you go through a triage. And again, the training that we're giving is if any visitor has a temperature, we'd defer them to the emergency department where they can be properly assessed.

Doctor, you worked on the Zika task force in 2016. What are the lessons from a public health standpoint and for a community that dealt with the Zika virus in 2016 that we can pull forward into questions and concerns in the coronavirus here in 2020?

With Zika, we prepared and we overprepared. And then the same with hurricane season. What we saw with Zikk was a community coming together. We saw a lot of support from government officials, from health departments coming together and really understanding as we knew more about the infection, how it was spread. When there is a new disease, we always go overboard. We always take abundance of caution and then we back off and say, hey, we don't need to do all these additional measures. So we learned from the Zika response in terms of operations in our hospitals, how to screen patients, how to effectively communicate and what kind of information needs to be sent to our public.

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.