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Trained for Ebola, Geisinger team switches gears for COVID-19

The special bio-containment unit is on-call 24/7.

SCRANTON, Pa. — It's all about containing COVID-19, stopping the spread, and protecting patients and the people on the front lines fighting the virus -- doctors, nurses, and all health care professionals.

 "We've probably trained or about 80 people in the health system, but we probably have a core staff of about 20 that are super-trained that go and care for the patients, and back in February we started an on-call list so this core group of 20 people could be available to be deployed to any of the Geisinger hospitals that might need assistance caring for these patients," said Stephanie Gryboski of the bio-containment unit.

The Geisinger team is specially trained in bio-containment. They first started training for a possible Ebola outbreak about five years ago.

A core group of about 20 people has been on-call round the clocks for weeks on end now, traveling from hospital to hospital, training and helping staff there: from how to get dressed in protective gear to how to take it off and sanitize themselves before heading home to their families.

"You can sense the comfort level because I've been everywhere, and so has my team, so we've been everywhere. We saw the comfort level when someone is there with them taking them step by step, 'This is what you do,'" said Mark Williams of the unit.

At a time when health care workers may have a lot of fear of getting sick while helping others, the Geisinger team is trying to help people feel less anxious.

Hospital officials have offered to help anyone who does not want to risk going home to their families.

 "If they don't feel comfortable going home, we have avenues for them to not stay at home, but our employees are not taking that opportunity. They actually feel safe that what we're doing is protecting them appropriately," said Gryboski.

Geisinger said its staff has invented a box to go around a COVID patient who is getting a nebulizer treatment or being intubated, which is having a tube put in their airway.

They believe that is when the virus seems especially likely to spread to doctors and nurses.

It is just one innovation they said they are pushing for during this difficult time.