There is heightened curiosity over the new coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world and closer to home. Information and misinformation is leading to a lot of questions while many are concerned and others wonder if they should be.
Sanford Health News sits down with Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle, M.D., to discuss Sanford Health’s readiness plan, answer some of your frequently asked questions and break down what you need to know right now.
“We are ready and we’re continuing to anticipate future readiness,” Dr. Suttle said. “We start with the biology of the disease. ‘What are the facts? How does it spread? How contagious is it? Where is it located? What can we do to prevent it?’”
Learn more: Facts about novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
Speaking of prevention, Dr. Suttle said basic hand-washing and flu shots are key to keeping yourself and your family protected.
“You don’t need to get sick right now and not know if it’s influenza or coronavirus.”
In addition, she said, avoid contact with others who are sick.
“Coronavirus is spread by droplets. So anytime we talk or sneeze or cough, there’s droplets that come from our mouth,” Dr. Suttle said. “The virus is on those and it can land on surfaces. I touch the surface and then I touch my face — my eyes, nose and mouth — and that’s how I get infected with the coronavirus. That’s where hand-washing becomes so important. Alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, just soap and water will get rid of the virus. That is all it takes.”
So should you wear a face mask? Not if you’re healthy, Dr. Suttle said.
“The people that need the mask are those individuals that are currently sick with coronavirus,” she said. “If they wear a mask, that will prevent those droplets from spreading elsewhere and prevent others from getting sick.”
Health care providers working closely with COVID-19 patients also need masks.
“A healthy individual out walking around does not need to wear a mask to prevent getting the coronavirus,” Dr. Suttle said. “They need to wash their hands.”
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The federal government, through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, is responding to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.
The disease was first detected in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China. It has now been found in many other locations around the world, including the United States.
The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).
The first infections were linked to a live animal market where a person came into contact with an infected animal. The virus is now spreading from person to person around the world.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in other communities, as noted by the CDC.
“That’s what has happened here,” Dr. Suttle said. “If you get the virus and get an infection, the disease is called COVID-19.”
Visiting with your doctor because you’ve traveled or because you have a tickle in your nose or throat doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be tested for coronavirus.
“Individuals who feel sick need to stay home. The only way we’re going to contain the spread is if individuals who don’t feel well don’t go out and get the other people infected,” Dr. Suttle said. “We are asking all of our clinicians on the front-line to have a heightened awareness to this.”
If a patient comes in with flu-like symptoms, medical staff will ask a few more questions about where a patient has traveled and if they’ve been to any affected regions. At that point, staff will have the option to call the state Department of Health, get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) involved and do an analysis to see if the patient needs a coronavirus test.
“As with any other virus, it’s best to stay home if you don’t feel well,” Dr. Suttle said. “When you get too sick that you can’t stay home anymore, that’s when you need to come in.”
Get your flu shot.
“You don’t need to get sick right now and not know if it’s influenza or coronavirus,” Dr. Suttle said.
Wash your hands, a lot.
“Coronavirus is spread by droplets. Anytime we talk or sneeze or cough, there are droplets that come from our mouth. The virus can be on those and can land on surfaces. So then I touch the surface, my eyes, or nose or mouth and that’s when I get infected with coronavirus. That’s where hand-washing becomes so important.”
Avoid close contact with others who are sick.
“The alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, just soap and water will get rid of the virus. That is all it takes,” Dr. Suttle said.
Dr. Suttle and her team of Sanford medical leaders are monitoring this situation “by the hour, by the minute,” she said.
“The best thing we can do is identify the case very early, isolate the individual and make sure we recognize any contacts that were there. Then the virus has a limited time frame,” she said. “If we can prevent that from spreading to others, that’s where we can really not have the large numbers, significant hospitalizations and fatalities. That’s what’s going to be the difference for us.”
Dr. Suttle doesn’t want to create heightened levels of fear or concern, but rather more awareness of who and what is around you while emphasizing prevention.
“We have to remember this is a virus. We get viruses all the time; this is virus season. There is not a vaccine for this or treatment — just like there’s no treatment for the influenza virus or the common cold. What we need to do is prevent the spread.”
Should there be a case within the communities Sanford Health serves, there is a team ready to care for its patients.