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Coronavirus in Illinois: Small Clinics Struggle To Stay Open While Keeping Medical Staff Safe

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We've heard a lot about the big hospitals and their fight against COVID-19, but what about the small medical clinics?

Many are now agonizing over whether to keep their doors open.

CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker takes a look at how they're doing it safely.

Doctor Golsa Shahkar of Midwest Express Clinics is doing her part to keep her patients healthy during this pandemic.

"Right now we're trying to see all our patients who need medical care," Shahkar said.

Midwest Express Clinics operates 17 facilities, including six in Indiana.  Ten of their locations only see patients with regular aches and pains, while the other seven right now only see people who might have COVID-19.

"That way we're keeping patients safe and at low risk of exposure," Shahkar said.

This one chain of clinics has tested more than 150 people for the virus in just two weeks. No walk-ins, screening everyone over the phone first.

Potential coronavirus patients drive up and get swabbed. So, how do the doctors and nurses keep themselves safe? By sanitizing patient rooms and by having an adequate supply of personal protective equipment or PPE.

"We make sure we wear face masks with eye shield and eye protection, N-95 masks, goggles," said pediatrician Doctor Wendell Wheeler, who admitted he's concerned.

"Because I'm in the age range that I'm at increased risk of significant symptoms from COVID-19," Wheeler said.

Despite all that protection, headlines around the country show healthcare workers do get exposed and get sick.

"Yes, it's scary but this is what we signed up to do," Wheeler said.

In-person visits are down at Dr. Wheeler's pediatrics office.

"I have actually stopped seeing sick patients, which is very weird," he said. "I'm doing a lot of video chats, telephone calls."

Last week, chain-wide at Midwest Express, 100 patients a day came in. Now the waiting rooms are often empty.

"We're seeing less than we normally do but we want to make sure that we're open and caring for patients who still need medical attention. We definitely don't want to overwhelm the emergency rooms right now," Shahkar said.

Wheeler has a different view as the virus evolves and adds to its human total. He may have to make a tough choice.

"It's been significantly amplifying almost by the day. Next week, when every fifth person may have it, yeah, maybe I'm gonna be completely closed."

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