A "new normal" for hospitals on the front lines of fighting coronavirus

While much of the country is just starting to see clusters of cases emerge, the hospital east of Seattle offers a window into the challenges set to cascade through the nation’s health care system, testing the resilience of workers, the readiness of institutions and the flexibility of supply chains.

The past few weeks have seen medical workers operating at the very edges of their capabilities, facing a virus so virulent that some patients were dying within hours of coming down with their first symptoms.

Caregivers who had been sent home into quarantine had to be called back to work to face the overwhelming task at hand. Engineers spent late nights scrambling to overhaul rooms so that contaminated air could not escape. Sanitation and janitorial crews struggled to swab down rooms where even a trace of the virus could infect the next patient. Supplies were so strained that nurses turned to menstrual pads to buttress the padding in their helmets.

But through it all, they have kept coming to work, even after some expressed worries about risks to their own health, and what they might bring home to their families. A new-employee orientation on Monday was packed.

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