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At U.S. Ground Zero for coronavirus, a hospital is transformed


David Baker, MD, a hospitalist at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Wash., had just come off a 7-day stretch of work and was early into his usual 7 days off. He’d helped care for some patients from a nearby assisted living facility who had been admitted with puzzlingly severe viral pneumonia that wasn’t influenza.

Michael Baker, MD, a hospitalist at EvergreenHealth, Kirkland, Wash.

Dr. David Baker

Though COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that was sickening tens of thousands in the Chinese province of Hubei, was in the back of everyone’s mind in late February, he said he wasn’t really expecting the call notifying him that two of the patients with pneumonia had tested positive for COVID-19.

Michael Chu, MD, was coming onto EvergreenHealth’s hospitalist service at about the time Dr. Baker was rotating off. He recalled learning of the first two positive COVID-19 tests on the evening of Feb. 28 – a Friday. He and his colleagues took in this information, coming to the realization that they were seeing other patients from the same facility who had viral pneumonia and negative influenza tests. “The first cohort of coronavirus patients all came from Life Care,” the Kirkland assisted living facility that was the epicenter of the first identified U.S. outbreak of community-transmitted coronavirus, said Dr. Chu. “They all fit a clinical syndrome” and many of them were critically ill or failing fast, since they were aged and with multiple risk factors, he said during the interviews he and his colleagues participated in.

Michael Chu, MD, a hospitalist at EvergreenHealth, Kirkland, Wash.

Dr. Michael Chu

As he processed the news of the positive tests and his inadvertent exposure to COVID-19, Dr. Baker realized that his duty schedule worked in his favor, since he wasn’t expected back for several more days. When he did come back to work after remaining asymptomatic, he found a much-changed environment as the coronavirus cases poured in and continual adaptations were made to accommodate these patients – and to keep staff and other patients safe.


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