Photos: Inside UVA Health’s Fight Against COVID-19

March 20, 2020 By Sanjay Suchak, Sanjay Suchak,

As most of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia and the country shifted operations to minimize personal contact, doctors, nurses, administrators and staff inside UVA Health are putting themselves on the front lines and working nonstop to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

They are providing immediate care – treating patients, answering questions, cleaning and sanitizing care centers and educating the public – and working on solutions to help stop the pandemic, including developing possible vaccines and working to fill national testing shortages.

This week, after a whirlwind effort from physicians, laboratorians and researchers across UVA, UVA Health developed and began administering its own COVID-19 tests.

“Our leadership team is working around the clock to ensure our patients and health care teams are safe,” Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. K. Craig Kent said. “I am so proud of our organization for persevering amid a complicated, constantly changing environment.” 

Dr. Chris A. Ghaemmaghami, the interim chief executive officer of UVA Medical Center, said everyone across UVA Health has contributed to the effort.

“Our planning and preparedness work for COVID-19 has been a true team effort across the Medical Center and the entire health system,” Ghaemmaghami said. “I am proud of and thankful for our entire team.”

“I am so appreciative of our frontline care providers for their hard work and their efforts to serve our patients and our community,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Costi Sifri said.

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Men and Women sitting at an oval wooden table talking to each other
The day starts before sunrise. At 6:50 a.m., Kent, who started in February as UVA’s new executive vice president for health affairs, leads a meeting of physician and administrative leaders from across UVA Health. This is already the second meeting for many of them today. They discuss the status of the health system and readiness levels.
UVA health executive members sit at an oval table talking
The meeting gives each person a chance to discuss issues with other teams before turning their focus to their individual areas and their fight against COVID-19. Here, Dr. Art Saavedra makes a point. Some participants called in; those in the room left a chair or two between them to maintain a safe distance.
Look of a computer screen that shows a global map in blue
A staff member keeps one eye on the meeting and the other on the Centers for Disease Control map tracking COVID-19 worldwide.
UVA Health team member looking at his computer while talking to the rest of the executive team
Ghaemmaghami, interim chief executive officer of UVA Medical Center, discusses testing capacity with the team.
View of UVA's hospital at sunset
As the meeting continues, the sun rises over the UVA Health complex on an unseasonably warm March day.
Buses stopped on the side of the road waiting  for passengers to board and deboard
Outside the hospital, a fleet of buses drop off employees. The number of buses has increased to help UVA Health employees maintain a safe social distance while commuting.
Coronavirus Visitor Alert poster taped to a glass wall
Flyers at every entrance alert visitors to risks, symptoms and preventative measures.
Nurse giving a visitor hand sanitizer
An R.N. at the door to the Emergency Department screens incoming patients and guests and asks them a series of questions about their health, travel and personal contacts. Afterward, she offers hand sanitizer and a sticker noting they have been screened for the day.
Sign on UVA healths wall that read Emergency Department UVA Health
Inside the Emergency Department, it is calmer than usual.
Rolling white medicine cabinets with green labels that read PPE
Rolling carts are stocked and ready with personal protective equipment – “PPE” to hospital employees.
Medical equipment sitting on top of medicine carts in the hallway
There is also protective equipment for staff who suspect they have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Nurse sitting at a nurses station working on a computer
A nurse waits works at the station while the ED sits largely quiet.
Empty hallways of UVA health
Inside the new, recently completed hospital tower, workers ready a special inpatient COVID-19 ward. The UVA Medical Center was in the unique position of having a new expansion – including the Emergency Department, operating rooms and inpatient beds – nearing completion before the pandemic, providing space that could be quickly provisioned to care for specialized cases. This floor, intended to be the musculoskeletal unit, is being temporarily converted into an inpatient COVID-19 ward.
Empty hospital room, bathroom, left, and bed, right
Each hospital room on the floor can provide intensive care.
UVA Health Staff Member standing at a door looking through thee glass
A nurse peers outside the clinic doors to look for the next patient. Physicians and nurses from across UVA Health have volunteered to work on COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Nurse talking to a doctor wearing gloves and protective drape
R.N. Danielle Donigan confers with Dr. Eric Houpt about their next patient.
Medical professional getting hand sanitizer out of a dispenser
Sanitation is critical. Houpt is wearing full personal protective equipment as well as sanitizing his gloves before meeting with patients.
Medical Professional talking to a patient while holding a covid-19 swap in his hand
Houpt administers a swab test for the COVID-19 virus. Testing is essential to understanding and controlling the outbreak.
Staff member sanitizing an exam room door
While Houpt meets with the patient, Cathy Kern, another R.N. in the unit, disinfects the door the patient and doctor just went through.
Healthcare professional cleaning an exam room with a sign on the door that reads dirty room
Once the test is over, a team of nurses and environmental services professionals clean every surface in the exam room thoroughly. There is a protocol that is followed rigidly to help to prevent infection transmission.
White board with the words: Quote of the week, wash your hands, wear your mask, and if its wet, sticky, and not yours don't touch it!  May the odds be ever in your favor
A whiteboard inside the unit has a quote of the week, “Wash your hands, wear your mask, and if it’s wet, sticky, and NOT YOURS don’t touch it!” followed by a paraphrase of the famous line from the “Hunger Games” series, “May the odds be ever in our favor.”
UVA staff member wiping down chairs in a hallway
Fighting the coronavirus is a community effort from every person at UVA Health. Inside the COVID-19 clinic, Mohammed Al Syra was frequently cited as instrumental in this fight. Al Syra is an environmental services professional who has been working 12-hour days, stopping only to have lunch with his wife, who works next door. He cleans every surface in the clinic, cleaning it top-to-bottom every two hours. “He is an incredibly hard worker, his attention to detail is impeccable and the work he does improves our workflow and makes our patients and our staff safer,” R.N. Trisha Durfee said. “He and others like him are truly the backbone of everything we are doing right now.”