Jan 25, 2020 06:20 AM

Reporter’s Notebook: Anxiety Inside a Wuhan Fever Clinic


(Wuhan) — The Wuhan Red Cross Hospital has been packed with patients since Wednesday when it was designated one of nine institutions in the city to receive patients suspected of having the viral pneumonia.

All people tested with temperatures above 37.3 degrees Celsius are supposed to be sent to the designated hospitals’ fever clinics for tests and treatment. But as the number of infections surges, the facilities are running out of capacity as shortages of medical supplies emerge and physicians are exhausted.

As of Friday evening, the new virus has claimed 26 lives in China and sickened 900. Thousands of suspected cases are waiting to be tested. However, the number of cases may be dramatically understated because of a shortage of testing kits.

Many of the patients I interviewed said they showed all the signs of coronavirus infection but couldn’t get a confirmed diagnosis for lack of definitive testing.

When I visited the Red Cross Hospital Wednesday, the main hall was crowded with people wearing masks as the sounds of coughing echoed through the air. Many of the patients in the hallways had IV drips while others waited anxiously to be tested or treated.

Several people showed me their CT scan results, which were highly suggestive of coronavirus infection, but they said they were yet to receive a confirmed diagnosis and thus couldn’t be admitted to the hospital.

“I know I am probably a mobile source of virus, but there is nothing I can do if the hospital doesn’t receive me,” said a suspected coronavirus patient surnamed Li. He told me he was unable to get the virus test because the hospital ran out of testing kits. As patients are mixed in the hospital, the risk of cross-infection is massive, he said.

A doctor at the Red Cross Hospital said only a few public hospitals in Wuhan were equipped with testing gear for the new coronavirus and the Red Cross Hospital was not among them. The hospital can only report suspected cases to the provincial disease control center, which will take samples for testing. It is unclear how many tests the center has done, but when I asked six people with lung infections showing on their CT scans at the Red Cross Hospital, none of them had received a test.

Without testing, many patients have yet to be confirmed as coronavirus infections despite highly suspicious symptoms and CT results, one hospital staffer in Wuhan told me.

A woman surnamed Wang said seven of her family members have started showing symptoms of fever and fatigue over the past couple of days while she was waiting for a test. Wang had a fever on Jan. 18 shortly after one of her neighbors was sent to quarantine for the virus. The neighbor died in a hospital days later.

Wang recovered from the fever after a day but started to suffer chest tightness and coughing. A CT scan showed infection in her lungs. But as with many others, her illness was not confirmed as coronavirus infection due to the lack of a testing device.

In the following days, Wang’s husband and six other relatives who had contact with her showed symptoms. None of them has been admitted by hospital.

“If I could have been quarantined in time, they would not have been affected,” Wang said, expressing feelings of guilt.

While suspected coronavirus patients scrambled to hospitals, other patients are increasingly worried about infection risks. An elderly woman surnamed Yu suffered a fever but was declared clear of coronavirus infection. However, under the new rules, she has to go to the Red Cross Hospital for treatment because of the fever.

“I have waited for five hours to see the doctor and am so worried about infection,” Yu said.

A medical staffer at the hospital said he is also concerned about potential risks of cross-infection from pooling all fever patients. The staffer predicted the policy will be adjusted to be more sophisticated. Hospitals have distributed masks to all patients in hopes of protecting them, the staffer said. But the effect could be limited, as several medical workers at the Red Cross Hospital have also been diagnosed.

On Friday midnight, flights carrying medical supplies and 150 military physicians landed at Wuhan’s airport to support the city’s fight against the outbreak, raising hopes that the medical shortages will be soon addressed. At the same time, Wuhan has started the construction of a quarantine center in a suburb to provide additional and better treatment to those affected by the virus.

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