While completing his medical fellowship at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland a few years ago, Anubhav Kanwar studied anaerobic bacteria that were contained inside an oxygen-free chamber.
“Basically, you would put your hands in the gloves and work inside that environment,” he said. “There’s no risk. No exposure at all.”
A few weeks ago, Kanwar, an infectious disease specialist at Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, Washington, came up with idea to reverse engineer the chamber designed to work with germs into a modified COVID-19 testing cabin.
“This is basically the same idea, but it is the other way around,” he said. “Now the health care worker is standing on the inside safe and protected while the patient is outside.”
In this design, health care providers administering tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, wouldn’t require any additional personal protective equipment (PPE), thus reducing the need for N95 masks, gloves, gowns and protective face shields that are in such a short supply.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the demand for PPEs and other medical supplies has skyrocketed across the nation and has nearly exhausted the federal government’s emergency stockpile.
Additionally, health care workers around the world are at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while administering tests, which require inserting a swab deep into the patient’s nose.
Often, a patient will cough and spray potentially infectious droplets as far as 13 feet away, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report also says medical staffs on the front lines are inadvertently spreading the virus on the soles of their shoes.
An article published March 21 in the Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, said 20% of the health care workers in Italy were infected with COVID-19.
“I can feel the pain seeing my colleagues in New York and other places who are working tirelessly and falling sick,” Kanwar said. “They could be protected. They don’t have to wear one mask for two days or whatever the case.
“By doing this you can save a lot of PPEs. … And even more important, you can possibly save lives.”
Two weeks ago, Kanwar shared his idea with Tri-State Memorial administrators, who gave approval to renovate an 11-foot-high fiberglass greenhouse with silicone sealing and bubble insulation.
James Aaseby, the facilities coordinator at Tri-State Memorial, and a two-man crew needed three days and $700 to turn Kanwar’s design into reality.
Last Friday, Tri-State Memorial opened its new COVID-19 testing cabin in the hospital’s parking lot, and it’s been used on three patients.
“As we ramp up this testing and get the message across, we will be testing more people,” Kanwar said. “It is certainly saving us PPEs. And it is certainly installing a sense of safety among health care workers who are testing.
“What I have seen are nurses who otherwise would be a little hesitant in testing can freely enter this greenhouse and test anyone.”
Clarkston, which is located in the southeastern corner of the state and sits along the Washington-Idaho border, has a population of 7,400.
As of Monday night, Clarkston’s Asotin County had six confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s county-by-county data. In King and Snohomish counties, there were 6,528.
Kanwar hopes places where the coronavirus has stressed medical resources may benefit from the testing cabin.
“This sounds like a potentially useful solution for areas doing low volumes of COVID-19 testing,” said Dr. Juliana Grant, a Seattle-based physician and infectious disease epidemiologist. “It does rely on having a health care provider who is already familiar with doing fine motor work in big rubber gloves.
“But it definitely eliminates the need for the face shield and the gown, which all PPEs are in short supply right now and that’s a good thing.”
Grant added: “Greenhouses and giant rubber gloves are probably more available than gowns, gloves and N95s. I’m a huge fan of innovation and people trying out new things.
“It seems like (Kanwar) has experience with this type of setup and has thought it through. And if it helps preserves their PPE for direct patient care, then go for it.”