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Beacon’s Chief Clinical Officer answers frequently asked Coronavirus questions

Because you might be feeling inundated with information about Coronavirus, we sat down with Sam El-Dalati, MD, Beacon’s Chief Clinical Officer, and asked for his perspective on some of most frequently asked questions about the respiratory illness.

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Has Beacon seen any suspected or confirmed cases of Coronavirus?

We have not had any persons under investigation who pose enough risk or have reached that level of seriousness for us to recommend testing. We have also not had any confirmed cases of the virus at Beacon Health System.

How do the symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) differ from flu symptoms?

There is no difference, really. If patients are experiencing difficulty breathing, they need to call their provider and be assessed. If they are having cough, low grade fever ( under 100 degrees Fahrenheit), sore throat and achy joints, these are the same for flu and Coronavirus and patients should call for a provider to be triaged. 

Where would Beacon quarantine patients with symptoms or the virus?

A patient that has symptoms with a significant travel history, which puts them at high risk for being what we would call a person under investigation, would need to be isolated right away. We have isolation rooms designated in our Emergency Departments and in our offices.

Can you describe the isolation rooms?

An isolation room has very limited access to other patients and staff. Our hospital isolation rooms are even more stringent because these negative-pressure rooms are designed so the air cannot escape and droplets produced by the respiratory virus cannot escape the room.

How is Beacon keeping physicians, nurses and the entire clinical team safe?

We have educated all our providers on the importance of wearing personal protective equipment. Our providers and caregivers would wear this equipment whenever they’re in proximity or rendering care to the patient.

How will Beacon keep visitors safe?

Should we have a person under investigation or a person who does have a virus, we would immediately restrict visitation to the hospital. We have to remember that this is an evolving situation. We don’t know what the numbers involved are going to be and we basically have to address things as they occur. We have to remain flexible.

What protocol will Beacon follow when we are treating a confirmed case?

A patient who exhibits symptoms and reports the right travel history or exposure would be taken to an isolation room and tested with a respiratory swab from the mouth or nose, similar to a flu swab test. This is not a blood test. That swab would be sent to the Indiana State Department of Health and we’d anticipate a turnaround time of about 24 hours to receive results. At this time, the treatment for this virus is supportive. We would manage the patient’s symptoms. At this time, there is no specific treatment that will decrease the complications or cure the disease. The CDC guidelines at this time do not recommend that we give Tamiflu or antivirals.

What constitutes supportive treatment?

If you have a fever, we’d give you something to decrease your fever. If your oxygen levels are low, we could give you oxygen. If you need intravenous fluids because you have nauseous or vomiting and cannot keep fluids down, we would give you an intravenous and give you fluids. If your breathing would become severely compromised and you would need help, we would put you on a respirator. Supportive treatment means that we would work to alleviate patient symptoms.

How has Beacon prepared staff to handle a coronavirus patient?

Our providers have all been trained on how to put on and remove personal protective equipment, including gowns, gloves, boots, masks and their head covering, to make sure there is no exposed part of the body that could be exposed to droplet infection.

Do you think Beacon will see a patient with Coronavirus sooner or later?

It’s very hard to predict, we really don’t know. The important thing is that we’re prepared for it. As many people have said, it’s not a matter of whether we will see a case, it’s a question of when. So we know this will come to our community and we just have to be prepared for it. It changed around two weeks ago as people started to realize the infection was spreading to several continents. The World Health Organization then announced it is approaching a pandemic.

Can you explain the difference between outbreak, pandemic and epidemic?

An epidemic is usually a localized outbreak of disease. A pandemic is defined as something that has spread from one continent to another. Right now, we know that Coronavirus started in China and that it has spread to the Americas, Europe and Asia. There has been spread across continents.

What are the differences in symptoms between Coronavirus and the flu?

The problem that the virus poses is that the symptoms are very much like the flu. It’s cough, fever, aches and pains in the joints. They are similar to flu-like symptoms. We have to look at the patient’s travel history and the history of exposure to determine whether this is a coronavirus case or a community acquired flu. The one big difference is that as Coronavirus progresses, patients become short of breath.

Do masks work as a protection from Coronavirus?

The CDC says masks for the general public are not recommended and are not protective. You can pick this up by putting your hand on a surface that’s been contaminated and then touching your face. It’s not just the aerosol effect in the air. If a patient comes in that has the coronavirus, at least you prevent them from emanating droplet infection when they cough or sneeze. Masks should be restricted to those with the disease or those being investigated as to whether they have the disease.

Are there any rumors you’d like to put to rest?

The biggest message I’d like to share is this: For the majority of the population, if they contract this illness, they will recover and they will be fine. It’s a very small number of people who will experience difficulties and ultimately will experience serious issues from this virus. For the vast majority of patients, this is just like the flu. It will pass.