Coronavirus ready: No panic, just preparation, among local health care agencies
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It isn’t a matter of if the novel coronavirus comes to Colorado — and to Steamboat Springs — but when, said Lauren Bryan, infection preventionist and epidemiologist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
And local agencies and health care providers are reporting a number of efforts to prepare.
The numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases continue to rise. As of Tuesday, there weren’t any cases in Colorado; however, cases were reported in Arizona. There also are cases reported in Nebraska and Utah, but those “include individuals repatriated via State Department-chartered flights.”
Across the U.S. as of March 3, there are 108 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of coronavirus with nine reported deaths.
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This week, Bryan said she’s been running drills at the hospital, hosting one-on-one trainings and participating in talks with other health agencies. There’s no change in protocol, Bryan said, because “we see infectious diseases every day.” But there is “upscaling,” she said.
The hospital is making sure it has plenty of supplies on hand, she said, and that it does have the swabs which are sent to the state’s lab for coronavirus testing.
“The county health departments for Moffat and Routt counties have activated our Community Infectious Disease Emergency Response Team,” said Kari Ladrow, public health director for Routt and Moffat counties. “The team has scheduled weekly meetings in order to facilitate cross-sector preparedness efforts.”
To provide prevention education, Ladrow said public health agencies are currently coordinating with the chambers of commerce, city and county officials, school districts, emergency responders, medical providers, clinics, hospitals, child care centers and airports in both counties.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber points to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online guide, with “recommended strategies for employers to utilize to minimize the risk and spread of acute respiratory illnesses.”
The State Laboratory at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can now test for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Previously, testing had only been done by the CDC. The test will only be used for people who meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing, and it will not be available to the general public.
“The state lab has the capacity to test up to 160 samples per day, assuming test kits from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are continuously available,” Bryan said.
Test results now only take about 24 hours, Bryan said.
She said there is a local plan in place for what happens when they see the first patient diagnosed with COVID-19. And the second. And if they see 40 patients.
“There’s not a sense of panic — just preparation,” Bryan said.
They haven’t tested anyone at Yampa Valley Medical Center, Bryan said, but she can’t speak for all health care providers.
Lauren Bryan, infection preventionist and epidemiologist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, recommends the following:
• Go through the same decision-making process as with any sickness in terms of seeking medical help.
• Carry out the same self-care you would anytime you feel sick.
• Hydrate, rest and stay at home.
• If symptoms take a turn for the worse or if it provides peace of mind, see your doctor.
The hospital is fully capable and prepared to respond to a coronavirus outbreak, she said. In Wuhan, China, there are approximately two doctors per every 10,000 people, Bryan noted. In Steamboat, there’s one doctor per every 1,200 people.
“Our medical community is strong, as is the local hospital,” Bryan added.
There’s another option available if you are sick and want to stay at home. Virtual Visits are a great option, said UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek.
“They can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone,” Reznicek said. “However, if patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should come to the emergency department at the hospital.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
Criteria for testing
If you think you might have been exposed to the coronavirus or might have contracted the virus, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has a system of criteria to determine whom they test.
The first scenario is a fever or signs of lower respiratory illness and was in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19 within 14 days of the symptoms starting.
The second scenario is if the patient has a fever and signs of lower respiratory illness and has traveled recently to parts of the world where infection rates are high or community spread is occurring within 14 days of starting symptoms.
The third scenario is if the patient has a fever and severe lower respiratory illness and requires hospitalization and other diagnoses have been ruled out.
In terms of contagiousness, the coronavirus itself is relatively heavy, Bryan said, and quickly drops to a surface. It travels about 3 to 6 feet, primarily through respiratory droplets, and can live on a surface for anywhere from three to 24 hours.
It is easy to kill, however, with common household cleaners and hand sanitizer.
Flu vs. the coronavirus
Bryan notes it is important to prevent the coronavirus by taking the same precautions you would for the flu, which statistically people are much more likely to be impacted by. So far this season, there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from the flu.
While the flu puts children at risk, Bryan pointed out there were no coronavirus deaths reported in China of anyone younger than 9 years of age and only one younger than 19.
If people are stocking up on supplies and feeling panic over the coronavirus, Bryan said they should also be getting the flu vaccine.
This year’s flu vaccine is about 45% effective, she said. And while it’s not a particularly bad flu season, Bryan said it’s an interesting one. Usually it is the type A influenza virus that shows up in the early part of the season, and then type B.
“This year it’s the inverse,” she said.
While there are a lot of comparisons out there about which poses more risk, on Monday Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, discouraged comparisons between the coronavirus and the flu.
“When you have a brand new virus, in which no one has had any experience before, that kind of gives the virus an open roadway to spread,” Fauci said in the NBC interview.
Still, for the majority of people in good health, the coronavirus isn’t going to feel like much more than a cold or flu. Some people aren’t even symptomatic.
“It’s important to remember a lot of people are not going to be severely affected,” Bryan said. “People with healthy immune systems, especially younger people, are able to fight it off.”
So, how do know if you’ve got the flu or if it could be the coronavirus?
The flu is much more upper respiratory, involving the head and the nose, Bryan said. Coronavirus symptoms are more in the lower respiratory system — shortness of breath, a cough and deeper in the chest and lungs. And a fever is a “prerequisite” of the coronavirus, she said.
Bottom line, Bryan said, is take the precautions you normally do to prevent illness.
Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Cover your cough. Throw used tissues away. If you have a fever, stay home. If your kid has a fever, keep them home.
And if you have concerns, contact your primary care provider.
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