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Q&A: Wuhan's biggest temporary hospital could close in March

BEIJING (AP) — The head of the largest of 16 temporary hospitals in the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak says his staff has had a heavy workload but should be able to wrap up operations by the end of this month.

Dr. Zhang Junjian is director of a facility opened in an exhibition center in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, on Feb. 7. With a staff of 1,260, it is designed to treat 1,500 to 2,000 patients. The temporary hospitals were hastily set up in gyms and other locations to handle an overflow of patients and try to stem the spread of the disease by separating them from the rest of the city's 11-million inhabitants.

Zhang, a neurologist at Wuhan University, said the hospital now has 700 patients. About 600 have been released, and another 400 severe cases were transferred to other hospitals. He spoke to The Associated Press in a video interview from Wuhan.

DO DOCTORS AND NURSES HAVE THE SUPPLIES THEY NEED? HAVE ANY BEEN INFECTED? No doctors and nurses are infected so far. ... Medical supplies can basically meet our needs now, and there is a good improvement in supply. At the beginning of construction of the hospital, during the first week, we were very nervous. Some materials and goods were in short supply. Supplies of protective materials were insufficient. The facilities are in place now. Our protective materials can meet the needs for normal operation.

IS THERE ANY PRESSURE OR UNSOLVED PROBLEMS? The biggest problem is that, compared with traditional hospitals, the number of doctors and nurses here is relatively small and their workload is relatively heavy. They need to communicate with patients, right? Talking to patients while making the rounds of the wards is a heavy workload and it’s quite intensive. Intensive work for a long time will cause many problems. It seems that at present, more medical staff are being assigned, so the pressure is eased.

After three weeks of operation, we find patients are in a relatively stable mood. They interact with medical workers or patients. That’s good. … Patients carry out a lot of activities, for example, talking to each other, reading books, reciting poems and other activities, such as dancing. Generally, it’s in relatively good order and the atmosphere is fairly good.

HOW DOES THE HOSPITAL DEAL WITH THE RISK OF CROSS-INFECTION, OR A PATIENT GIVING THE VIRUS TO A PATIENT WHO MIGHT NOT BE INFECTED? Although these patients had mild symptoms, they were all diagnosed as novel coronavirus pneumonia. So if we let them stay together, there is no such problem as infecting each other. Just like treating tuberculosis patients and hepatitis patients in one ward. Although they receive treatment together, all arrangements conformed with the guidelines for treating infectious disease. For example, two passages (one for patients, one for workers), protective measures for medical staff, a polluted zone, a clean zone and a semi-polluted zone. ... It basically meets the demands in terms of isolation, protecting medical staff and treating patients with infectious diseases.

WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK ON HOW MUCH LONGER THIS HOSPITAL WILL BE REQUIRED TO OPERATE? We expect maybe in mid-March or during the last ten days of March, our patients will be basically discharged from the hospital, because fewer patients are being admitted and the number of patients being discharged is gradually increasing now. So we can have at least 50 to 100 people discharged every day, according to current discharge standards. If nothing special happens, I expect the operation of our makeshift hospital, the biggest one in Wuhan, could complete its historical mission by the end of March.

Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang contributed to this story.

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