Large cities on lockdown. Flights suspended. A rising death toll … a global health emergency. The headlines are anxiety-producing, even for those oceans away from the epicenter of this health crisis. And now the first cases and deaths in the United States have been reported.
The spread of a novel strain of coronavirus (COVID-19), first reported in Wuhan, a major industrial city in East-Central China in December, is a human tragedy playing out in that country – and now beyond in Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and elsewhere – with more than 113,000 confirmed cases, nearly 4,000 deaths, and day-to-day life altered with patients in quarantine, jittery financial markets and worldwide economic impacts, and hospitals overwhelmed with patients.
In the weeks that have followed, public health officials have learned more about COVID-19, particularly that it is capable of human-to-human transmission. Confirmed cases have been reported in 77 countries. In the United States, 18 states have confirmed cases. The first confirmed cases in Ohio were reported on March 9.
“Akron Children’s is closely monitoring new developments with this coronavirus with the C.D.C., WHO and other health organizations,” said Dr. John Bower, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Akron Children’s. “We already ask patients at all of our offices about international travel as part of our medical history protocol, and we continue to fine-tune this process based on new regions of concern.”
As it did with other infectious disease outbreaks like the H1N1 flu and ebola, Akron Children’s has pulled together a multi-disciplinary team to be ready for COVID-19 cases. Realizing that every department from Labs and Radiology to Public Safety and Volunteer Services could be impacted, hospital preparedness includes:
- Having front-line care providers review infection control protocols
- Preparing patient rooms equipped for higher-levels of infection control
- Making sure adequate medical supplies are on hand
- Having expanded labor pools ready, if needed
- Suspending business travel for employees
- Having daily calls and meetings with the C.D.C., the Ohio Department of Health and county health agencies
What makes this virus different?
Coronaviruses are common respiratory viruses which are normally found throughout the world in humans and animals, including the United States. In fact, every winter up to 35% of respiratory infections in the United States are caused by several well-established strains of human coronaviruses. What makes the current outbreak in China different is that an animal strain has mutated to form a new strain of coronavirus that is highly aggressive in humans due to a lack of immunity.
Who’s at risk?
Doctors are currently using these guidelines to determine if patients are at high risk for COVID-19 and should be tested. The C.D.C. continues to broaden these guidelines as the virus spreads in the United States.
As of now, the 3 circumstances where COVID-19 should be suspected are:
The patient has:
- Fever or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (i.e. cough or shortness of breath) AND has had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptoms onset.
- Fever and signs/symptoms of a lower respiratory illness (i.e. cough or shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization AND a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of onset. The affected areas are China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan.
- Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness (i.e. pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome) requiring hospitalization and without alternative explanatory diagnosis even if no source of exposure has been identified.
If you think you or your child may have COVID-19 … call ahead!
If you think you were exposed to COVID-19, call your primary care provider first before showing up at the office and possibly putting other patients and health care providers at unnecessary risk of infection. And unless it is an emergency, do not go to the emergency room without also calling ahead so they can take steps to provide you with the right treatment and protect others from possible exposure.
Let’s not forget about flu
“Hand washing is the one thing that will protect us the most,” said Dr. Bower. “Wash hands often and thoroughly.” Hand sanitizers are also great to use in between hand washing. Try hard – it is very much an unconscious habit – to not touch your face, and avoid people who are obviously ill.
For now, influenza remains a much larger threat in the United States. This flu season alone has sickened 19 million across the United States and had led to 10,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalizations. It’s never too late to get the flu vaccine. Learn how and where at Akron Children’s.
Akron Children’s visitor restriction policy remains in place for the protection of our patients. During this time, visitors to inpatient units are limited to those 12 years and older who do not have cold or flu symptoms, and the number of friends and family in a room is limited to 4. Critical care units may add further restrictions if needed.
The Ohio Department of Health is operating a hotline for questions about COVID-19. The number is 833-427-5634 or 833.4.Ask.ODH and the hours are 9 am to 8 pm seven days a week.
Are kids anxious over the scary news?
Similar to situations where there is a constant flow of tragic news –whether it be a mass shooting or natural disaster – sometimes the best approach to keeping children from becoming overly anxious is to dial back on their news exposure. The constant stream of online stories and cable news headline banners about the coronavirus can feel overwhelming.
While the radios and TVs are muted, use this opportunity to talk to children about the things they can control and the ways they can keep themselves and others healthy, such as eating healthy foods, getting a good night’s sleep, covering their coughs and following good hand hygiene.
“As parents, our first intuition is always to protect our children from ‘the tough stuff’ of the world,” said Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a pediatric psychologist. “However, children in 2020 are saturated with media, and may often learn about crises at school, on television or by talking to others. Oftentimes, children’s half-knowledge and imagined fears are more frightening than the truth so it is often recommended that you start the conversation, with a question such as ‘Are you and your friends talking about the coronavirus at school? I’d be interested to know what you think and how you are feeling.'”
It may also be reassuring to tell children that hundreds of smart, dedicated doctors and scientists worldwide are involved, caring for patients, working to stop the spread of the disease and studying the virus in laboratories so they can develop effective treatments. A vaccine is already in development.
More information about the 2019 novel coronavirus, can be found at www.cdc.gov.