The number of patients hospitalized because of suspected coronavirus infection is manageable at the moment at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and its campuses in League City and the Clear Lake area. But the medical branch is preparing extra beds in anticipation of more patients needing diagnosis and treatment for the coronavirus in the coming weeks, officials said.

Galveston County had four diagnosed cases as of Wednesday.

“Starting last week, we are putting all patients under investigation into one unit in the hospital,” said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, a pulmonologist and the medical branch’s chief medical officer. “Right now, the number of suspected cases is manageable. On average, we have eight to 10 patients under investigation daily. And we are prepared for a surge in the number of patients.”

Tests for the coronavirus remain limited, with backed-up labs creating a delay in getting results back, he said.

“Among our inpatients right now, we don’t have anybody who has tested positive,” Sharma said.

Each campus is keeping patients in their facility in an area segregated from the general hospital population until their test results are confirmed.

“We’re testing them for the virus, and we’re continuing to plan for more,” Sharma said.

The medical branch is looking into additional capacity, making sure its hospitals have enough critical care beds, Sharma said.

“We are adding more beds to our League City campus, 60 rooms, and we have 56 additional beds at Clear Lake,” Sharma said.

Medical personnel in the units designed for suspected coronavirus patients have been trained in extra sanitary hygiene and protective practices whenever they enter and leave a patient’s room, Sharma said.

The patients he’s seeing at the medical branch run the spectrum from young adults to middle-aged to the elderly, he said.

“Everybody needs to pay attention to social distancing, covering their mouth and nose when coughing and practicing good hand sanitation, no matter what age they are,” Sharma said.

Sharma urged that people with mild symptoms should not show up at urgent-care facilities or the emergency departments but should self-isolate.

“Even with a nonproductive cough and a fever, it’s better to just stay at home and be isolated,” he said. Patients with complicating conditions such as lung or heart disease and diabetes, as well as older patients, should call their doctor to see whether they need to be tested, he said.

People concerned they might have the virus or need to be tested for it should call 409-772-2222 or 800-917-8906 for a phone screening, from which they might be referred to one of six testing centers that have been set up around the community by the medical branch.

“The best thing to do if you’re self-isolating is hydrate, drink lots of water, rest and make sure you’re not mingling with others,” Sharma said. “Anyone who suspects they might have the virus should self-isolate, away from any other household members, using their own utensils and just avoiding contact with others until they are tested and test results are back.”

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

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