UCLA Erects Tents to Deal with Potential COVID-19 Outbreak

Story by Larry Altman

As Los Angeles County officials announced 15 more coronavirus-related cases Sunday to bring the total to 69, UCLA Medical Center erected mobile tents outside its Westwood emergency room that apparently will be used to deal with an expected influx of people seeking tests.

No details were available from UCLA Health officials, but Johnese Spisso, its president and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that UCLA had developed its own test and would be increasing its ability to perform it amid the pandemic.

“We’ve set up a satellite drive-through testing station,” Spisso said in an interview with Chuck Todd. “We were fortunate at UCLA Health, our biology lab was one of the first to be able to start testing and doing our own tests that really save us time.”

The tents are erected in the hospital’s parking lot near the emergency room.

Coronavirus testing stations outside of ER at UCLA | Photo by Karen Foshay

“We’re hoping to increase capacity,” Spisso said. “And having that drive-through area allows us to really contain patients from coming into our main hospitals, where our most sick patients are.”

Spisso, saying “this is definitely an unprecedented time for healthcare systems in our country,” said her staff was working around the clock to prepare and implement an emergency preparedness plan for an outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

The mission, Spisso said, is to treat “the most complex injury and illness that we see,” train the next generation of healthcare professionals to deal with pandemics, and to conduct research to lead to cures.

But, she said, the focus now is to recognize hospitals are full and to increase “surge capacity.”

Two UCLA Health spokeswomen said separately Sunday that no information about the tents or how they will be used was ready for release but may be in the coming days. It wasn’t clear when UCLA erected the tents, whether they were already in use or when they might be.

Neither was Information on who can visit the hospital to seek the COVID-19 test.

“Everything is so fluid now,” spokeswoman Alana Prisco said.

Trainers set up at the Dockweiler beach parking lot for quarantine | Photo by Karen Foshay

Meanwhile, the county has placed about a dozen trailers at the Dockweiler Beach RV Park off  Vista Del Mar near Los Angeles International Airport to be used to house patients required to quarantine or isolate themselves. Patients might include the homeless or people from out of the area with no place to stay.

County health officials, meanwhile, said Sunday in a statement, that without a specific vaccine or treatment for the disease, social distancing remains the most effective way to avoid the virus and prevent a spread.

Of the cases announced Sunday, one was the result of an unidentified source, three were cases of exposure during travel, two involved health-care workers exposed in a health-care setting, and four caused by close contact with a confirmed case. Five need more investigation. A 16th case was reported Saturday by Long Beach’s health department.

Five of the cases announced Sunday are hospitalized, and county officials cautioned the public that they occurred across the regions, “so everyone should be aware and practice social distancing.”

“We anticipate more cases and increased community spread as more testing occurs,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “We are asking everyone to expect more social distancing requirements as more cases are identified.”