Open Accessibility Menu

Visalia hospital completes airflow project, improving its ability to care for COVID-19 patients

  • Category: News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

VISALIA – As Tulare County continues re-opening, the largest hospital in the county cared for a record number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital this week, and completed a project that will allow it to isolate up to 86 COVID-19 positive patients in the future.

“Unfortunately, as the County continues to open up and after every holiday, we expected to see a higher outbreak rate and that’s happening,” said Gary Herbst, Chief Executive Officer of Kaweah Health, noting that on Tuesday it cared for 41 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. “It’s one of the reasons we continue to be progressive and do everything possible to care for our community.”

Thanks to the recent completion of an airflow project, Kaweah Health now has 86 rooms, up from 10 at the start of the pandemic, where it can isolate COVID-19 positive patients to prevent the spread of the virus, said Shawn Elkin, Kaweah Health’s Infection Prevention Manager. The project adjusted airflow in areas of the hospital used as COVID-19 units and met Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health standards.

“What we’re doing is protecting the people who are outside of the room. We draw the air from the hallway into the patient room, filter it and exhaust it outdoors,” Elkin said.

The project also consisted of turning rooms into airborne infection isolation rooms, which comply with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of an isolation room and function as negative air pressure rooms. Several of these rooms opened on Kaweah Health's newly opened fifth and sixth floors of the Acequia Building.

These rooms will not only help Kaweah Health better care for the community by isolating COVID-19 patients, but also in the event of outbreaks of other highly contagious viruses.

“They are really a good alternative in this situation and can be useful even in a measles epidemic,” Elkin said. “With COVID-19 it is thought that every case results in 2.5 additional cases, but for measles, every case results in 16-18 additional cases. It’s the world’s most infectious disease.”

Kaweah Health continues with antibody testing for its team and to date, it has tested 1,910 employees, physicians, and residents with only 58 testing positive for the antibodies. An antibody test, or a serology test, screens for antibodies in the blood, not the COVID-19 virus. A person’s body makes antibodies when it fights an infection. The test shows Kaweah Health who was exposed to COVID-19 and had the virus, even if they did not have symptoms.

“To have only had 58 of the 1,910 is pretty interesting,” said Herbst, noting that it’s been proven that if you take this antibody test 14 days after a person contracts the virus, then it has almost a 100 percent accuracy rate. “I was thinking that the number of positive cases would probably be a lot higher, but then of the those 600 elective surgery cases we have done since we started doing them again, only two people tested positive for the virus. It shows there is a tremendous amount of our population out there that has never contracted it.”

As more people continue to venture out as the county re-opens, Kaweah Health continues to encourage safety in the community, asking people to follow safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Maintain social distancing (6 feet apart)
  • Wear face masks
  • Clean/disinfect frequently-touched surfaces
  • Monitor for symptoms of illness (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, or GI problems, etc.)

For those with symptoms who are unable to be seen by their doctor, they can call (559) 624-4110, Kaweah Health's free COVID-19 hotline. It allows an individual with COVID-19 symptoms, to schedule a same-day appointment with a nurse practitioner. Kaweah Health shares COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at and on its social media accounts.