What’s the latest on the coronavirus?
When a UMass Boston student returning to the U.S. from China was diagnosed with the coronavirus on February 1, Massachusetts residents wondered if there was new cause for concern. The answer for those of us on Cape Cod, as well as the rest of the state, is “no, not at the present time,” according to David Pombo, MD, medical director of infectious disease at Cape Cod Healthcare.
“New information about morbidity, mortality, and how the disease is transmitted is regularly issued from reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization,” he said. “You still have no cause for concern if you have not come in contact with someone who recently spent time in Wuhan, China. Because of travel restrictions, that level of contact is nearly impossible.”
We asked Dr. Pombo for some more answers to questions around this public health issue.
Q: What is the 2019-nCoV coronavirus?
Dr. Pombo: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses we first heard about more than a decade ago with the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Novel Coronavirus (known as 2019-nCoV) is new, and we are learning more each day about how it spreads and how long it takes for people to become sick.
The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, which is called the “epicenter” of the disease.
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. At that time, there were 12,167 suspected cases throughout China. Today, there are more than 45,000 cases worldwide. At least 4,800 people have already recovered from the coronavirus.
Q: What about the coronavirus in Massachusetts?
Dr. Pombo: A young man in his 20s who attends UMass Boston—but does not live in a campus dorm—is recovering at his home. He sought medical attention after returning to the United States from Wuhan, China. The health department is monitoring the few people he came into contact with for symptoms, and officials say there are no more cases at this time due to contact with this Massachusetts student.
Q: What do you want people in Cape Cod to know about the coronavirus?
Dr. Pombo: I want people throughout Massachusetts to know they are more likely to get the flu than the coronavirus. Flu vaccines and other precautions to avoid getting the flu are very important right now.
Precautions to avoid getting the flu include:
- Immunization against influenza,
- Frequent hand washing or hand hygiene with alcohol rubs, especially after contact with ill persons,
- Cough etiquette, including covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Q: When did travel restrictions occur in the United States?
Dr. Pombo: On January 31, 2020, to prevent coronavirus spread in our country, President Trump issued a travel ban on people coming to the U.S. from China. It says:
- Foreign nationals who have visited China in the past 14 days may not enter the United States.
- American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their families who have been in China in the past 14 days will be allowed to enter the United States, but will be redirected to one of 11 airports to undergo health screening. Depending on their health and travel history, they will have some level of restrictions on their movements for 14 days from the time they left China.
Q: What are the symptoms of 2019-nCoV?
Dr. Pombo: Coronavirus symptoms are cold-like, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and include the following:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
As with influenza and many other viruses, the coronavirus can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.
Q: What is the CDC telling healthcare professionals?
Dr. Pombo: The CDC updated its guidance for healthcare professionals on January 31, 2020. Recommendations are that testing for the novel Coronavirus should be performed on:
- Patients with symptoms
- People who have been in contact with a person who has a laboratory-confirmed infection
- People who have returned from Hubai province, in addition to Wuhan city
- Anyone returning from Mainland China hospitalized for fever and pneumonia.
In addition, on February 3, 2020, the infection prevention guidelines were updated to emphasize prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious patients in order to prevent unnecessary exposures among patients, healthcare personnel, and visitors at the facility. According to the CDC guidelines, “All healthcare facilities must ensure that their personnel are correctly trained and capable of implementing infection control procedures; individual healthcare personnel should ensure they understand and can adhere to infection control requirements.”
Q: How has Cape Cod Healthcare prepared for this?
Dr. Pombo: Cape Cod Healthcare has infection control measures in place at all times, not just when outbreaks such as the coronavirus occur. This is why patients who enter the hospital with a fever or cough are questioned regarding recent travel and ill contacts, instructed to wear masks and use hand hygiene, and are not allowed to wait among other patients in the common areas. These are some of the most visible reminders of our comprehensive infection control procedures.
Our infection control policies and procedures are applied throughout all of the facilities of Cape Cod Healthcare, including our urgent care centers, labs, rehabilitation centers, and physician practices.
As for the Coronavirus, we have updated employees and the medical staff as information has been made available by regular email postings to provide the latest updates from the Massachusetts Department of Health and the CDC.
CDC action steps to help prevent spreading to people in your home and community.
Left Image: David J. Pombo, MD