A large white party tent went up outside the entrance of Akron Children’s Hospital’s emergency department on Friday morning.


But it’s not a party hospital officials are prepping for — it’s the new coronavirus, COVID-19.


The 60-by-50-foot tent, which could hold about 100 people, is not yet in use, but the hospital is preparing overflow space in case the number of patients needing treatment in the ER exceeds space inside the hospital, said Brian Lapolla, executive director for facilities construction and public safety for Children’s.


A similar tent also went up Thursday at the Children’s Hospital Beeghly campus in Boardman, Lapolla said.


The lighted tents have sides that can come down to protect from weather and can be heated.


"These are anticipatory measures so that we have capacity available, if needed, to extend our [emergency room] waiting rooms out into the exterior, so we can help distribute patients and screen patients prior to getting into the emergency dept — so they know whether to go to a sick or well side of the waiting room, depending on symptoms that are screened," he said.


Hospital across the region are erecting overflow tents, offering free virtual appointments, canceling non-essential doctor visits and taking other aggressive steps to stop the spread of coronavirus and prepare for a potential onslaught of critically ill patients.


At Children’s, there are currently no capacity issues at the Akron or Boardman locations, Lapolla said.


But emergency room leadership will determine if and when the tent will be needed for more capacity, Lapolla said.


The tent will not be used to treat patients, but for additional space for initial screening, he said.


While the large tent did take up some parking spaces outside the Akron emergency room, there still is some parking outside the ER, a parking deck across the street, a drop-off driveway and valet available for patients and families, Lapolla said.


Cleveland Clinic also is in the process of setting up tents at its hospitals systemwide as a precautionary measure. Cleveland Clinic Akron General spokesman Joe Milicia said tents are not yet planned for Akron General.


Likewise, Summa Health spokeswoman Shannon Houser said the health system is "working with facilities and our team to plan for surges in capacity both within our existing facilities and exterior temporary capacity."


Here are other updates from area health systems:


Virtual visits


(Editor’s note: This information has been updated as of March 16 with updated information about virtual visits and costs.)


Call your primary care physician first or use one of the many virtual health lines that area health systems are offering to help you screen your illness.


Cleveland Clinic: is offering the most broad virtual visits for free. It is waiving fees for its on-demand and scheduled virtual visits for the public, regardless of health coverage.


The online portal is at www.clevelandclinic.org/eco


The around-the-clock system can help screen patients for concern about COVID-19 and other illnesses.


Summa Health clarified its virtual visit offerings. It is offering free virtual visits for COVID-19 screenings and e-visits for flu, sinus infections, hay fever and allergies. Those services are normally $29, but are being offered for free.


All other conditions, including more than 30 diagnoses, are $29 for an e-visit. Audio/Video visits are also still available for $49. This service is available in all 50 states.


Patients can visit www.Summahealth.org/virtualvisit and choose the e-visit service.


The e-visit platform and screening is available around-the-clock. Providers are available, and will answer visits within an hour of completion, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.


Children’s is offering free COVID-19 screening through its virtual care portal for patients of its pediatric locations. There is a fee of $49 for any other services or diagnoses.


The service at www.akronchildrens.org/pages/Quick-Care-Online-Virtual-Visits.html is available daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.


COVID-19 tests


Currently, none of Akron’s three major hospitals — Children’s, Akron General or Summa, have on-site testing capabilities for COVID-19. Instead, they are sending their tests to the Ohio Department of Health or local labs.


At a news conference Friday afternoon at the Summit County Public Health Department, hospital representatives said they are looking into drive-up testing capabilities.


Cleveland Clinic Akron General President Brian Harte said the clinic’s main campus has on-site testing; the service isn’t available at its regional hospitals at this time.


Dr. Thomas File, chair of infectious disease at Summa, said the health system is developing testing and may have it ready within two weeks. File said once testing is available, Summa plans to offer it as a drive-up service.


Dr. Robert McGregor, chief medical officer at Children’s, said his hospital also is working on testing, which should be available in two weeks.


The doctors said they know people are anxious to get tested, but said while supplies are limited, tests will be used for the most vulnerable populations, older patients or those with other underlying medical conditions.


File added that while there is great concern among the public about getting sick, unless you’re old or have other medical conditions, the younger population typically will have minor symptoms.


Strengthening hospital visitor policies


Summa, Akron General and Children’s on Thursday all announced restricted visitor policies, including limiting visitors to two per patient and asking people who are sick, among others, to stay away.


On Friday, Summa further strengthened its policy, saying it would now require all visitors to enter at the main entrance of hospitals and to have their temperature taken; if it is above 100 degrees, they will be denied entry to the hospital.


Hospital capacity


Hospitals say they have capacity to add more beds if the coronavirus pandemic brings more patients. Akron Children’s has capacity to add another 25 beds for patients with respiratory issues, spokeswoman Holly Pupino said.


The Cleveland Clinic health system has the capacity to add up to 1,000 beds, if needed, Milicia said.


Summa officials said they were still working on getting that information.


Appointments


Several health systems are starting to cancel "well-visit" or non-essential doctors visits in an attempt to keep healthy patients from getting sick.


Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics is canceling well visits for patients 30 months and older for the next 60 days, said McGregor. The younger patients still need their immunizations, and patients who have medical concerns will still be seen.


"We're trying not to expose well children to the waiting area," he said. McGregor said the hospital will reasses later. When the spread of coronavirus is over, they will restart well visits and might consider having certain offices be for sick visits and others for well visits.


The health system will begin notifying patients on Monday; there’s no need to call the office to reschedule at this time, he said. Children’s also has temporarily suspended the ability to schedule appointments online.


At Cleveland Clinic, some primary care offices have begun calling patients with regular appointments in the next two weeks to move visits to a later date.


Summa Health is in the process of reviewing non-essential outpatient office visits to determine if they can be rescheduled. Regardless, all Summa Health Medical Group offices are being advised to ensure all patients are able to refill their prescriptions by calling their physician’s office, spokeswoman Houser said.


Overflow use at Children’s


If it gets to a point where the adult hospitals in Akron are overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, McGregor said Akron Children’s officials have begun discussing how they could help — since the virus seems to not be affecting otherwise healthy children under 18 as much.


But, McGregor said, "the reality is our staff cares for children. But if it’s a true crisis, could [the other hospitals] offload their 15- to 24-year-olds with coronavirus? Yes. Would we take a ventilized adult? I think if you can have another option, that would be a better option, but if we are out of resources, we’ll do the best for community."


Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.beaconjournal.com/topics/linfisher