COVID-19, a strain of the coronavirus, is spreading rapidly in the United States, with 164 cases and 19 deaths reported so far. Ohio does not have a confirmed case yet, but local hospitals are preparing for when it inevitably hits the community.
Two people are currently under investigation for the disease in Ohio, and 255 people are under public health supervision. Eight people have tested negative for COVID-19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, Mount Carmel and Ohio Health have all been preparing for the coronavirus since January. While officials acknowledge coronavirus is a public health concern, they note that the majority of coronavirus cases don’t actually end up in the hospital.
“In this case, it’s estimated that 80% of the patients that get COVID-19 will recuperate at home and never need to be in the hospital,” says Andy Thomas, chief medical officer at the Wexner Medical Center. “That’s a really good thing.”
Thomas says 10-15% of coronavirus cases require a short-term hospital stay, and only 5% need intensive care. Plus, he says the symptoms of COVID-19 are pretty similar to influenza.
“The good news is this virus is, in a lot of ways, like viruses we typically take care of in terms of the symptoms that people get,” Thomas says. “Therefore, physicians, nurses should all be typically prepared to take care of one of these patients, because they’ve taken care of patients with upper respiratory viruses for their whole career.”
The best thing someone can do if they feel sick and are concerned they have the coronavirus is to call their primary care doctor and stay home from work.
Despite those assurances, hospitals are putting more preparation in place for COVID-19 than the typical flu season.
All of the health systems contacted by WOSU brought up “Negative Airway Rooms,” also known as “Negative Pressure Rooms,” that are advised for patients with COVID-19. Hospitals are making sure they have enough of those rooms available for if this outbreak escalates.
“What those rooms essentially do is they pull all of the air that’s in the room, continuously out of the room, and filter it through some very special filters, that cleanse that air before expelling it outside,” says Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical officer at Ohio Health.
He says that way, any particles from a patient coughing or sneezing are filtered, instead of ending up in the hallway where they could reach other patients.
All the hospitals are also stocking up on gear like facemasks, hospital gowns, gloves and more to make sure they have everything to take care of contagious patients.
All three of the hospital systems mentioned how communication is absolutely key right now.
“The chief clinical officers and the infectious disease physicians are working very closely between Mount Carmel, Ohio State, Ohio Health and Nationwide Children’s Hospital so we have routine communication,” says Dr. Nicholas Kreatsoulas, chief clinical officer at Mount Carmel Health System. “And also our local and state health departments are part of those conversations.”
Thomas ways Wexner Medical Center is doing that internally too – physicians can call a critical events officer, who is one of four senior physicians, to help advise on a case around the clock.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time on this over the last six weeks,” he says. “Most average physicians have just been going on with their day, and reading about it here and there, so we can help them think through a problem any time day or night.”
At this point, the hospitals are preparing as though it’s not a case of if they will get a coronavirus patient, but instead, when.
The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.