Is the World Ready

Hong Kong is not the only place where strategies have been mapped out in the event that SARS returns. In the United States, where only a handful of confirmed cases were verified, health officials have taken inventory in various cities, making certain that there are enough respirators and other tools needed to care for victims. Many experts say that even before the SARS outbreak worldwide, the United States was already fairly organized for a large outbreak of some infectious disease. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had alerted the nation that its procedures for a bioterrorist attack needed to be shored up.

The anthrax scare, as well as the heightened nervousness about the use of the smallpox virus as a weapon, created an urgency throughout the medical community. As a result, communications between hospitals and public health authorities have been in a constant process of improvement, and readiness is the number one priority. Hospitals need to be equipped to handle "surge capacity," which is the sudden influx of hundreds of new patients at one time. By 2004 city hospitals are expected to be ready to handle as many as fifteen hundred emergency patients in a single day.

In the United States, many doctors and public health officials have been impressed with the sense of cooperation between hos-pitals—which often compete for business. Emergency rooms at various hospitals have begun cross-credentialing patient information so doctors have access to information about patients no matter at what facility they receive care. The cooperation has saved hospitals money on supplies, too. "We're talking about buying [supplies] in bulk, in economies of scale," says one Dallas physician, "with everybody participating. Everybody is anteing up."89

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