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We are currently at the University of Nebraska Medical Center as part of our ongoing investigation of the coronavirus outbreak for “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” We are receiving unprecedented access to the National Quarantine Center at the university, as well to the doctors and nurses who treat the patients and run the facility.
There are now 15 patients under a coronavirus quarantine at the National Quarantine Center. They all came from the failed quarantine on the cruise ship Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan.
Thirteen the 15 have tested positive for the coronavirus. Two of these are in the biocontainment unit. At least one person has developed the severe pneumonia characteristic of this novel coronavirus officially named COVD-19. This patient was finally transferred into regular quarantine Wednesday.
The patient has been enrolled in a clinical trial where he either receives the anti-viral drug remdesivir or a placebo. He is reportedly getting better. The second patient in biocontainment is getting better as well and will be out soon.
The medical professionals treating these patients are heroes, caring for the patients while at the same time studying the coronavirus closely. They are making extremely useful determinations that no one else has made before.
The conditions in the quarantine rooms are good. Jeri Seratti-Goldman, one of the patients who has not tested positive for the coronavirus (her husband Carl was in biocontainment), told us that the food is good and she benefits from sticking to the same daily routine that she follows at home. She works out on a treadmill and then works on her computer.
“Keeping busy has helped my psyche quite a bit,” Seratti-Goldman said. “Keeping a positive attitude and knowing that this is all out of our control, so I just have to roll.”
“I was not frightened until yesterday,” she said, referring to “my good friends from St. George, Utah, Mark and Jerri Jorgenson. Jerri was the first to contract the virus. Mark was diagnosed and he got a positive yesterday. I guess this is the first time I’ve been frightened. In my head I was hoping that tomorrow was day ten. … Bummed that he tested positive and there is still a possibility for me to test positive.”
“Three people a day come in at breakfast lunch and dinner, they give you your meals and check temperature,” Seratti-Goldman continued. “And that’s the only contact I have.” She suffered a broken tooth and the staff had to go out and get her some Bondo because there was no way to have anyone come in and fix it.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, indicated in an interview with us that the virus appears to be more contagious than the flu and therefore very difficult to contain.
Gold is looking to the response in countries like South Korea, Japan and Italy, which have much better-developed health care infrastructures than China’s, to predict whether the novel coronavirus will evade travel restrictions and take route in the U.S. He is not alone.
Dr. Michael Wadman, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-director of the quarantine unit, told us in an interview that the key symptoms of the new virus are cough, shortness of breath and chest congestion. This is different than is the case with other respiratory viruses that cause more sinus or throat symptoms, or the flu, which is most often characterized by fever.
Dr. Andre Kalil – top researcher in Infectious Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and in charge of the current research for the anti-viral drug remdesivir – believes the drug is a promising treatment for the new coronavirus.
Kate Boulter, lead nurse for the biocontainment unit, and nurse Grant Fabry met with us in the biocontainment unit “brain room” and demonstrated how personal protective equipment works. They pointed out that they are being extra cautious at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, but the basic uniform of disposable N95 respirator mask, gown, gloves and face shield should be sufficient. They work as a team to disrobe after each encounter so no virus can possibly be spread.
Perhaps most impressive of all is nurse Shelly Schwedhelm, the director of the National Center for Health Security and Biopreparedness at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She is kind, compassionate, extremely knowledgeable, and has run this excellent program from the time of Ebola (the center took care of Ebola patients) and before.
Luckily, the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is rapidly expanding and the quarantine program will soon have hundreds of beds. In the meantime, the center provides a paradigm, reaching out around the country to other major medical centers seeking guidance in quarantining contagious patients.
Unfortunately, as Shelly said, this information may prove crucial sooner rather than later, as the coronavirus continues to spread through communities. Or, as Sarah Connor famously said in “The Terminator,” “a storm is coming.”
Fox News’ Kyle Rothenberg contributed to this op-ed.
Charles Couger is a coordinating producer for Tucker Carlson Tonight.