'It's important people have a healthy respect for the virus:' UNC Health CEO talks hospital preparations for coronavirus

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There are 33,000 people who work at UNC Health across the state, nearly half work in the Triangle.

Dr. Wesley Burks, the CEO of UNC Health Care, is in charge of keeping staff and patients safe in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's important that people take it seriously-- that they have a healthy respect for the virus that's coming," said Dr. Burks.

Though UNC Health doesn't have any reported cases of COVID-19, they know they will eventually.

RELATED: UNC Health encourages 'virtual visits' in effort to prevent spread of coronavirus

"We have 13 institutions across the state from the coast to the mountains and we're in constant communication with all of them to prepare for what's going," Dr. Burks said.

He explained what might happen in just a few weeks' time.

"What we're doing is to segregate them so that all of the patients that need to be seen for possible COVID-19 infection are seen at one site per institution so here it will be close to our ambulatory care center," he said. "We'll have trailers set up and people that are trained to see patients that have the right protective equipment-they'll be seeing patients there and we'll do that at each of the sites across the state."

Right now, UNC has a web site dedicated to coronavirus questions and a hotline you can call at all hours of the day.

"It's appropriate that we help patients identify who might have it, that we diagnose them well and we help isolate them," Dr. Burks said. "Most of the patients will be able to stay home and take care of themselves."

Dr. Burks pointed us to what's going on in Italy after being asked about his biggest fear.

RELATED: Italy imposes nationwide restrictions to contain new coronavirus

"Two weeks ago there were 20 or 30 patients that were infected and now it's 9,000," he said. "They've instituted public health measures but only after that started increasing exponentially and it was probably too late. Our hope is that with good leadership that we have out of the governor's office that we ramp up our mitigation of the disease that it won't spread like it has other places but it's still possible."

UNC Health is among three major Triangle hospitals that have activated their Emergency Operations Center to help combat the coronavirus.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.