Officials say COVID-19 is no reason to panic
With a third case of COVID-19 identified in Oregon this week, health officials are making plans to deal with the spread of this disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus.
But they also want to remind people that they are much more likely to get the flu than they are COVID-19.
In Central Oregon during the week of Feb. 16, for instance, 124 people tested positive for influenza A or B.
COVID-19 has similar symptoms but also includes difficulty breathing, which can lead to pneumonia. Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure and be as mild as the common cold or severe enough to require hospitalization, usually in older adults with other health conditions.
The best way to prevent COVID-19 is the best way to prevent the spread of the flu and the common cold, too, according to the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network. That includes washing your hands often with soap and water. If that's not available, use hand santizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid contact with people who are sick.
If you're sick, stay home and avoid close contact with other people, and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
That's because the virus is believed to spread through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact and touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
The network is encouraging people to call ahead to their regular doctor if they cough, fever or other respiratory problems.
"If you have difficulty breathing, it doesn't mean you have COVID-19, but you should call 911," a flyer from the network said.
If you're over 60 — the virus seems to be hitting older adults the hardest — had have diabetes, heart or lung disease, make a plan with your doctor.
For now, there are no medications specifically approved to treat the virus.
"Most people with mild illness will recover on their own by drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and taking pain and fever medications," the flyer said.
Cases that develop pneumonia require medical care or hospitalization.
The St. Charles Health System said in a message about the virus that it is following the guidance of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and "working closely with state and county officials to ensure an aligned and consistent approach to the virus."
"The organization also has a pandemic-response plan approved by its leadership team that will optimize its resources," the message states.
Though the risk of coronavirus spreading to Central Oregon is believed to be low, St. Charles is using a report built to track coronavirus testing locally. So far, no tests have been sent. In addition, the health system has "taken steps to ensure an adequate supply of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to keep patients and caregivers safe in the hospital should COVID-19 come to Central Oregon."
"We're engaged in weekly conversations with our partners on this, and we're sending out twice-weekly communications to our own caregivers to keep them up to date on the current processes and procedures," said Audrey Gudmundsson, manager of infection prevention at St. Charles Bend. "We feel like we're prepared."
Each St. Charles hospital and clinic is asking patients with flu-like symptoms to wear a mask and answer a series of questions, including whether they've recently traveled to China. If a patient confirms travel to China or interaction with someone else under investigation for coronavirus, they will be confined in airborne isolation – a room where air pressure and flow are controlled to prevent the spread of disease. St. Charles has 50 total airborne isolation rooms, including 31 in Bend, 13 in Redmond, four in Madras and two in Prineville. Once the patient was isolated, the hospital would contact the county health department, and the county would contact the CDC to facilitate further testing.
"The CDC is currently the only lab with the capacity to identify this particular strain of coronavirus," said Dr. Robert Pfister, chief safety and quality officer for St. Charles. "They're the experts in this situation, and we're following their lead so we know we're as current as we can be and that we're on the same page as every other health care provider."
Pfister went on to say that the health system expects the situation will to keep changing, and it will ensure that the public and caregivers are informed.
COVID-19 in Oregon as of Tuesday, March 2:
3 patients tested positive and are awaiting confirmation from the CDC
17 patients have tested negative
8 patients' samples await testing
226 have either completed monitoring or were determined to have no risk
101 are under monitoring
Pioneer news editor Teresa Jackson and Central Oregonian news editor Jason Chaney wrote this story.
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