By now, everyone knows that COVID-19 (aka Coronovirus), is sweeping across the world. According to the World Health Organization, as of March 10, there have been nearly 110,000 confirmed cases worldwide and just under 4,000 deaths. It has spread to 104 coutries, including the United States. As of Monday, there were 647 cases in the U.S., and the disease has been confirmed in 36 states.
Not surprisingly, there is a sense of panic as the news covers the story and the virus continues to spread. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the government to take aggressive steps to prevent the spread of the disease. Some states and cities have declared a state of emergency in preparation for a larger outbreak.
While the state of the COVID-19 outbreak is changing daily, there are some things that remain consistent. And these are the things you can share with patients to help alleviate their anxiety and hopefully stay well. Consider communicating with patients via text or email to share information on who is most at risk and how to avoid getting sick.
- You can use readily available information from the CDC for a general communication to all patients (see below).
- Send additional information to smaller groups of high risk patients or caregivers with specific instructions for their unique circumstances. The CDC has provided additional information about high risk patients here https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/index.html.
- Also, as more information becomes available or if there are details about the outbreak and response in your area, send updates. It is always better for patients to get accurate information from their local hospital or healthcare provider.
Consider sharing these details from the CDC in a mass alert or series of communications to patients:
How Does the Virus Spread?
COVID-19 is spread from person to person. It is usually most contagious when someone is at their sickest and spread when they cough or sneeze. It can be spread when someone is not showing symptoms or from surfaces, but those are not thought to be the main ways it spreads. It does spread easily so it is important to take precautions.
What Precautions Should be Taken?
There is no vaccine yet so the CDC recommends that these precautions be taken to prevent COVID-19 and all respiratory illnesses:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
What Should You Do If You're Sick?
Again, the CDC is providing guidance on what patients should do if they feel sick:
- Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
- Avoid public areas: Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
- Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home: As much as possible stay away from people and animals if sick. Try to stay in a designated room away form others. Have someone else care for pets if possible.
- Call ahead if you have a doctor's appointment: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19.
- Wear a facemask: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
- Cover coughs and sneezes: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw it away immediately then wash hards thoroughly.
- Wash hands often: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- Do not share: You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
- Clean and disinfect: Practice routine cleaning of high touch surfaces.
What Are the Symptoms?
According to the CDC, current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, usually in two to 14 days. Call your healthcare provider if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.
To stay up to date, follow updates from the WHO and CDC and your local health department. If there are changes that affect your patients like quarantined areas, school closures, or local outbreaks, you can share relevant details with patients through text and email to help reduce their anxiety and keep them informed.
If you are concerned about being compliant with the use of text and email, download this guide, which has helpful information about healthcare communication through text and email.