NEWARK, NJ — While measures to enforce social distancing across the city and state have become increasingly serious, Newark hospitals are battening down the hatches and adjusting their visitor policies in preparation for potential COVID-19 cases that may touch down in New Jersey’s largest port of entry and city. 

The city’s major medical centers equipped to treat cases of the coronavirus — Saint Michael’s Medical Center, University Hospital and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center — have not reported any positive tests to date. State officials have so far announced 29 cases and one death across six counties.

Shereef M. Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital, said every hospital and community doctor in the state should be prepared by now to help fight and contain the outbreak. University Hospital is shoring up all lines of defense when it comes to clinical staff, space and supplies, according to Elnahal. 

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The public hospital, which is in closest proximity to Newark International Liberty Airport, has more than 40 isolation rooms prepared as well as an entirely new unit in the event of a surge. Preparatory drills for hospital staff are being conducted to ensure the safety of patients and staff. 

A spokesperson for Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, part of the RWJBarnabas Health System, said a special pathogens committee is meeting daily and has a secure communication line system-wide. 

“Guided by our commitment to ensure the health and safety of all patients, employees and clinicians, we are following the current direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NJ Department of Health,” the spokesperson said. 

For the last several weeks, Saint Michael’s has been working closely with local, state and federal public health agencies as well as its own health care professionals to prepare in the event of a suspected or confirmed case.

“Our staff is already well trained in the use of standard, contact and airborne precautions in the treatment of patients with infectious diseases,” said Dr. Jihad Slim, the chief of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Saint Michael’s. “We are relying on this expertise as we prepare for the possibility of patients with suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus.”

Saint Michael’s has an Emergency Operations Plan in place, which includes details on how to handle a patient with a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus. The hospital has negative pressure rooms where patients can be isolated, preventing the spread of infection to other patients, according to a press release posted to its website.

Additionally, Saint Michael’s has an Emergency Operations Team that communicates daily and has weekly meetings. Members of the team include physicians, senior leadership, nursing, quality/risk, infection control, security, facilities, human resources, employee health and IT.

Saint Michael’s imposed restrictions on visitors, who must be a significant other or a responsible health care giver who is 18 years or older. Only one visitor is allowed at a time on patient floors and in the emergency room.

Saint Michael’s has also closed its entrances on Central Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd., though the Emergency Department entrance on Central Avenue will remain open for patients seeking emergency care.

All visitors to Saint Michael’s must now enter through the main entrance, where they will be screened by hospital staff who will ask if they have traveled outside of the United States in the past two weeks, if they are experiencing any respiratory or cold/flu-like symptoms or if they have been exposed to anyone with coronavirus or the flu.

All patients brought into Saint Michael’s emergency room and clinics are screened to determine if they may have a suspected case of the coronavirus.

“While we do not have any reported cases of the virus in Newark, we are imposing these restrictions out of an abundance of caution to protect our patients,” said Dr. Slim. “Our patients count on us to protect them. Limiting visitors protects patients and staff from potential exposure to the coronavirus. We hope that anyone who is visiting understands the seriousness of the situation and why we had to put these restrictions in place.”