Are You Up to Speed on Coronavirus (COVID19)?

March 01, 2020

The Coronavirus (COVID19) is consuming the headlines daily, but before people panic, healthcare officials are working to educate the public on what is being done locally and beyond to best combat this evolving virus. Melissa Szarzynski, RN, BSN, CIC Shore Medical Center manager of infection control said the hospital is doing everything they can to make sure patients, staff as well as the community are as safe as possible. 

Teamwork 
Szarzynski said the hospital is following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for monitoring for COVID19. “Our entire team is trained and in the loop; from registration, admission, the ER staff have all signed off on education. They are asking very specific questions of people who are to be treated when the patient is being screened following Dept. of Health surveillance criteria in order to be tested for COVID19. If the person is sick enough to be hospitalized with their upper respiratory symptoms, they are moved to an airborne room. They are asking the person if they have traveled to Wuhan, China, or if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive to COVID19,” said Szarzynski. 

Keep things in perspective
“We have to keep this in perspective,” said the SMC infection control manager. “Of the more than 90,870 cases of COVID19 (80,304 in Mainland China), more than 45,155 people have already recovered, and as of March  4, there have been 3,114 deaths with 11 in the United States. We are still in the height of flu season and have seen nearly 18,000 deaths nationwide as a result of the flu. For that reason, we are still advising people to follow good hygiene; wash your hands frequently, if you have symptoms like sneezing or coughing, then please remember to cover up or cough into your elbow. If you do not feel good, then stay home, and if your children do not feel good or have a fever, do not send them to school.”

Szarzynski said this flu season has been quite active, with 32 million upper respiratory illnesses with 310,000 hospitalizations nationwide. 

Because of the concern about being aware and prepared for COVID19, Szarzynski said the lines of communication are open at all levels and include all of the regional healthcare providers along with the World Health Organization, police, fire, county, the department of health along with others. They are participating in meetings as well as conference calls with the CDC and following all the procedures for COVID19.

Staying on top of it 
In addition, Szarzynski said the staff has been trained in sterile donning and doffing for SARS and MERS, adding that it is a two-person job, and they want to make sure everyone understands what standard protocol is. “Here at Shore, our EVS team is on top of it. They are using cleaning products that are known to kill other coronaviruses. They are cleaning all the rooms and everywhere in the hospital to keep our patients, staff and community safe,” added Szarzynski.  

Statewide, it is the county department of health which makes the determination whether a person is to be tested for the virus. As Szarzynski explained, if a person came into the emergency department with a cough they would not be automatically tested for the coronavirus. They would ask specific questions and then contact that person’s home county board of health for guidelines on testing. Locally, the Atlantic County Board of Health Poison Control Hotline is handling the COVID19 questions from concerned residents.

CDC weighs in 
According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS and SARS and now COVID19. It is a betacoronavirus, like MERS and SARS.  All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The sequences from patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal source. Early on, many of the patients in the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread has been reported outside China, including in the United States. COVID19 reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death.

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS and SARS viruses which is a similar kind of virus. Both have been known to cause severe illness in people. The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully understood.

The exact characteristics of COVID19 are not exactly known because it is so new and still evolving. Szarzynski said it appears those with a compromised immune system are susceptible along with the elderly population, using MERS and current data as a reference. It also seems that children are not being impacted as much as others. Currently, there are no COVID19 specific guidelines for pregnant women. 

Will weather impact the virus?
Will COVID19 wane as summer temperatures increase? “That is something we hope for, but we really do not know because we have no history on this disease,” added Szarzynski. “What we can tell people is what we tell them for the flu; wash your hands, make sure you are hydrated, get sleep, just take good care of yourself and stay home if you do not feel well.” She is also reminding anyone who has not gotten a flu shot that it is not too late. The normal flu season runs through April, but last year stretched even further due to the weather. 

For more information on COVID19 visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. The Poison Control Center COViD19 hotline is 800-222-1222