Constant changes in how the nation is fighting the coronavirus have caused hospitals and medical offices to alter visitation policies and push for patients to follow their advice.
Dr. Charles Scott, chair of Advocare Doctors’ Coronavirus Task Force — who practices general pediatric care at Advocare Medford and Mansfield Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine — explained that COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, has symptoms similar to the flu and pneumonia, both of which are common this time of year.
“Respiratory difficulties, fevers and dry coughs,” he said, “those are similar to the flu, pneumonia and others. Oftentimes, you can’t tell the difference.”
Pneumonia, typically a bacterial infection, can be detected by a doctor listening to a patient’s chest and hearing a “crackling sound with the lungs,” as doctors have described it. They say it is similar to the sound of Velcro opening.
Dr. John Matsinger — a doctor of osteopathic medicine, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Virtua Health — said doctors are learning “more and more each day” about COVID-19 and are in the early stages of the discovery process.
“Attempting to self-diagnose is dangerous; trained clinicians are best equipped to make the distinction between COVID-19 and other ailments,” he continued.
The pandemic has forced systems like Jefferson Health and Virtua Health to forbid visitors in the main hospitals and units, unless an exception is made. Jefferson Health started curtailing its elective surgeries on March 13.
Virtua’s visitation guidelines can be viewed by visiting Virtua.org
“There are innumerable circumstances where exceptions may be appropriate, so surgeon discretion is advised,” Nicole Pensiero, corporate director of communications at Jefferson, said in an email. “We are also recommending transitioning procedures to ambulatory centers if appropriate and feasible.”
Scott emphasized social distancing, since the virus can be spread by a cough or sneeze from a person in close contact. Distancing is one of the ways to “flatten the curve,” doctors say, meaning to restrict the virus’ spread.
Helping the elderly and immuno-compromised population stay protected has been the priority of health officials, since the probability of fatal complications is higher in that demographic, Scott said.
“If you’re not essential to be at work, stay home,” he added. “Limit the amounts of needing to go out; go get your groceries, but know what you need. Social distancing is important, hand washing for 20 seconds and mind your coughs and sneezes.”
Matsinger echoed the sentiment, urging for the public’s cooperation to maintain the six-foot distance.
“If people take all the precautionary measures – staying home, avoiding close contact, washing hands, and so on – they reduce potential opportunities for exposure for themselves and for others,” Matsinger added.
Precautionary measures include thorough hand-washing (at least 20 seconds), covering coughs and sneezes, and routinely cleaning of surfaces.
In the event of COVID-19 symptoms or the flu, Scott urges patients to call their primary care offices to alert nurse practitioners, secretaries and doctors.
“If we have a suspected patient, don’t be surprised if a doctor comes with a gown, masks and gloves,” Scott explained. “Are we treating our patients? Yes we are. Are we staying safe and healthy? Yes we are.”
Those experiencing mild or manageable symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their primary doctors for advice, but are urged to not show up without informing medical staff.
Doctors on the front lines of the pandemic are adhering to health protocols while maintaining contact with regular patients for wellness checks and immunizations.
As for the treatment of the virus, fluids are highly suggested. As of deadline, there is neither a vaccine nor definitive treatment. Scott said severely ill patients should get treatments specific to their complications.
Scott and Matsinger urged that over-the-counter medicines be taken when appropriate and as labeled.
“Ibuprofen is not a friend to kidneys and acetaminophen isn’t friendly to the liver; use them when needed, but don’t overdo it,” Scott advised.
Purchasing masks and gloves is not necessary for people who are healthy and are not experiencing symptoms. Matsigner pushed for individuals to have them only if they have COVID-19 and want to prevent the disease from spreading. The equipment should be largely left for health professionals to have.
“It’s important to use masks and gloves properly, to maximize their effectiveness,” he mentioned. “For instance, masks are most effective when properly fitted, and when only touched with clean hands. People should wash their hands immediately after removing gloves.”
Designated professionals wearing Personal Protective Equipment at Virtua Health are the only employees who are assigned to patients who are suspected to have COVID-19.
“Virtua has invested a great deal of time and effort in training our providers to properly don and doff their PPE, and these procedures are monitored closely for compliance,” Matsinger explained.
As of deadline, coronavirus testing is currently limited to those with symptoms.
Calling the treatment of the virus a marathon and not a sprint, Matsinger added the health network remained committed to ensure doctors are not experiencing burnout with the offering of mental and physical health options.
“Virtua’s request to the public is that they look for ways to help ease the burden of the health care workers in their lives,” he noted. “This could be volunteering to provide childcare, preparing meals, or simply sending a message of appreciation for the sacrifices they make every day.”
Best practices for everyone to follow regardless of health status?
“Isolating at home, even if you feel healthy, is an effective way to combat the spread of the coronavirus,” Matsinger said.
“Also, wash your hands.”
“If you’re sick, call us first so you can get the appropriate care so we can prepare for when you visit the office,” Scott said. “Telehealth (medical services by phone) is probably coming up in the next few weeks, but there are some things we need to physically see face to face.”