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Health officials are urging Americans to seek a flu vaccine this month, hoping to avoid twin epidemics as COVID-19 continues to circulate. (Oct. 1)

AP Domestic

As CoxHealth sees a surge in coronavirus patients, the provider is gearing up for flu season by building a temporary unit on Cox South’s campus to care for respiratory patients.

Cox Vice President of Hospital Operations Amanda Hedgpeth said the unit is meant to add capacity for less acute patients to be treated for respiratory symptoms.

“It’s for people with flulike symptoms, COVID symptoms, anything respiratory,” she said. “This is really for those people that have pretty mild symptoms that need some sort of treatment.”

She said if people present to Cox’s urgent care, they will either be referred to a brick-and-mortar building or the new unit outside of the Turner Center.

The unit will be equipped with 16 treatment spaces and will be staffed with five or six staff members, including nurses, physicians and techs, Hedgpeth said.

The idea came from the early days of the pandemic when Cox set up a tent outside the emergency department to treat patients with mild respiratory symptoms.

Hedgpeth said the tent worked well, but in the winter, they needed something more durable.

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“It will have heating and air, negative pressure. It’s able to have X-Ray and labs,” she said.

The unit will likely stay until the end of flu season, which typically happens in the spring, and Cox is also considering building similar units at two other locations if needed.

The extra capacity may certainly be needed, with the hospital seeing a record high 95 COVID-19 admissions over the weekend. That’s far more than the roughly 25 patients that were staying in the hospital over the summer.

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Hospital officials have said they worried about the upcoming flu season, noting that time of year typically brings 30 to 40 extra patients to the hospital at its peak. That would come on top of whatever extra patients are admitted for COVID-19, potentially stretching staff and hospital resources.

Hedgpeth said she wanted to remind people to wear masks while out in public and take other precautions like physical distancing to reduce the burden for health care workers and keep the community safe.

Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at kkull@news-leader.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.

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