Dr. Joseph Kontra (left), Chief of Infectious Diseases and Dr. Michael Ripchinski (right), Chief Clinical Officer, share their perspective on the COVID-19 epidemic, and how the community can stay healthy and prepared.
The arrival of the coronavirus disease, officially known as COVID-19, brought along a relentless flow of alerts and advice via every medium. It's important, and understandably difficult, to maintain calm and clear thinking through it all.
Some helpful perspectives and advice to consider:
- Our nation's hospitals and first responders continuously maintain a state of preparedness to manage disasters and public-health emergencies. We practice how to contain an outbreak, to adequately treat the sick, and to limit the spread of a virus.
- You can take simple steps today to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other viruses, including the seasonal flu.
- If you feel sick, call your doctor. If you are sick, be prepared to stay home.
We've been here before
Recent outbreaks such as swine flu, H1N1 flu, measles, SARS, MERS and Ebola, have essentially given health-care providers with the necessary training and experience to manage any new infection threat, including COVID-19.
Soon after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in China, LG Health started regular briefings – internally and with our colleagues across Penn Medicine - to prepare for its potential arrival to our region.
Hospital and health systems here and across the country began taking steps to prepare their physician offices, urgent care sites, emergency departments and inpatient settings for an influx of COVID-19 patients. Our preparedness efforts also included ensuring adequate supplies of respiratory protection, gowns, gloves and other equipment to protect our clinical staff to care for potential patients with COVID-19.
We activated a task force at LG Health that meets regularly to assess our readiness and maintain contact with the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which are regularly issuing guidelines for the identification and optimal care of COVID-19 patients. We are also in constant communication with the other hospitals in the Penn Medicine system to coordinate our preparedness efforts.
The CDC website is also an excellent resource for the general public. The site is updated regularly, provides the latest information on the prevalence of COVID-19 cases worldwide, and includes extensive advice for families, college students, schools, businesses and others.
What you can do
You can take very basic steps now to avoid getting sick – as well as curtail the spread of Winter-time viruses including the flu and COVID-19. Unfortunately, in times of panic or crisis, we can forget basic infection prevention actions.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds - especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water aren't available and your hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Use a tissue to blow your nose and put the tissue in the trash. Cough or sneeze into an elbow. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
In general, take care of your health. Your body will be better able to fight the coronavirus, and good health pays dividends even if you never get sick. As with other viruses, the risks are often connected to your age and overall health condition.
These steps also provide helpful protection from the seasonal Influenza, which still remains a significant threat to the public. There have been 32 million cases of the flu so far this season, resulting in 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths. In Lancaster County, there have been more than 2,300 Influenza cases through February.
If you feel sick
Follow the same steps you'd take if you believe you had the flu. Stay home from work or school, unless you feel that you need medical attention.
If you feel sick with a fever, a cough, or have difficulty breathing, call your doctor's office and tell them your symptoms. Also consider using online, telemedicine options offered by most health systems (clinicians with Penn Medicine OnDemand, for example, can be reached at 717-544-2222.) which enable you to speak to a provider via your mobile phone or tablet.
By calling in advance, medical experts can help to make decisions about whether, when and where you should be evaluated. Be prepared to answer questions about your symptoms, your travel history and your risk of exposure to the virus.
Based on what we know so far, most cases of COVID-19 do NOT require hospitalization. In 8 of 10 cases, patients experience a fever and cough and recover slowly over the course of a few weeks. With this in mind, the CDC suggests creating a household plan, based on the needs and daily routine of you and your family. Preparing for any emergency, it's smart to plan and get what you need if you're stuck at your home. Besides, if people in the community are sick, you'll want to stay at home.
While the continual flow of COVID-19 news can be both frightening and concerning at times, use what you've learned to your advantage. Following through on the advice of experts will help protect your health and mind – and you'll be better prepared for the unexpected. Get the latest updates from Penn Medicine here.
John Lines, 717-468-8303 (mobile)