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What you need to know about coronavirus

March 09, 2020
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As one of New England’s leading and healthcare systems, Baystate Health, similar to its role during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, has been preparing over the past few months to meet the needs of patients should the novel coronavirus – COVID-19 – arrive in the community.

While the news concerning the spreading novel coronavirus changes by the minute – health officials at Baystate Health want to empower the public to safeguard their health and that of family members, as well as to assure them that plans are in place should a local outbreak occur.

“At Baystate Health, we are staying well-informed and ensuring preparations are in place to care for any patient that comes to us for care. We continue to screen patients arriving to our medical practices, emergency departments and urgent care centers for a history of international travel and/or contact with a known person with the virus,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler, chief epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Baystate Health.

“While the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has said the risk remains low in Massachusetts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that an outbreak in the United States remains possible,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler, Baystate Health epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist.

Community Acquired Transmission

“We remain on alert in western Massachusetts for patients who have a history of travel to one of the affected areas or contact with someone who has a confirmed COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Haessler.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses. There are many that commonly circulate in humans and cause symptoms of the common cold. When animal coronaviruses infect humans, they have caused more severe disease including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the disease which is caused by a new animal coronavirus strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

 Common Virus Symptoms

Similar to the flu, symptoms may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath 2-14 days after exposure. Symptoms can be mild to severe illness, and result in pneumonia.

Common signs of COVID-19, which can begin in as little as two days or as long as two weeks after exposure, include:

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing difficulties.

More serious cases of the infection can cause:

  • Pneumonia
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Kidney failure.

 While symptoms can often be confused with influenza, flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and aches.

The Good News

“The good news is that while the virus can be deadly, the vast majority of patients who develop this new coronavirus will have mild symptoms. However, older adults and persons with other underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, could be at greater risk for more serious complications,” said Dr. Haessler.

The new infectious disease, similar to flu, is believed to be transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces.

How To Protect Yourself

While researchers are actively working on a vaccine to protect against 2019-nCoV infection, Dr. Haessler and the CDC recommend the following preventive action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily – including tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles – using a regular household detergent and water. If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent and water prior to disinfection. For disinfection, a list of products with Environmental Protection Agency    (EPA)-approved emerging viral pathogens claims, maintained by the American Chemistry Council Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC), is available at Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fighting Products. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.
  • 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 a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

Should I wear a facemask?

The CDC does not recommend wearing a mask when out in the general public, as that has not been shown to prevent virus spread and can take masks away from people that need them (like our caregivers giving direct patient care).

If I have a fever and a cough will I be tested for COVID-19?

Not necessarily. Your healthcare provider will determine the appropriate level of testing. Tests used at Baystate Health do not detect COVID-19. Testing to detect this virus is only performed at the CDC and recently the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has also received approval to perform the tests. Tests performed at Baystate that show a result on a patient's respiratory pathogen panel that is positive for a coronavirus means the patient has a common coronavirus and does not have COVID-19.

How will I be cared for if I test positive for COVID-19 and what is the treatment?

We know that most patients who test positive will not require hospitalization. We also know that, so far, the COVID-19 virus has had minimal impact on the health of children. However, patients who do need inpatient care will receive care in isolation once admitted. Multiple areas within

Multiple areas throughout Baystate Medical Center have been identified to could safely house COVID-19 patients, providing appropriate isolation to help prevent spread of the virus. Through investments in preparedness, Baystate Health has specialized equipment already on hand. We are in close communication with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) and following their guidance on preparing for management of this illness.

How Patients Are Evaluated

Dr. Haessler noted that many patients who present at Baystate Health facilities with respiratory symptoms are evaluated for viral infections using nasal swab testing capable of detecting 20 different pathogens. The results may include one of several types of human coronavirus that commonly cause respiratory infections in the United States.

“Most people get infected with one or more of these common coronaviruses at some point in their lives. To be clear, the virus causing COVID-19 is not the same as these common coronaviruses. COVID-19 is a new coronavirus from an animal reservoir that had not been previously identified. Patients with COVID-19 will be evaluated and cared for differently than patients with common coronavirus diagnosis,” she said.

Tests used at Baystate do not detect COVID-19. Testing to detect this virus is only performed at the CDC and recently the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has also received approval to perform the tests. Tests performed at Baystate that show a result on a patient's respiratory pathogen panel that is positive for a coronavirus means the patient has a common coronavirus and does not have COVID-19.

 “We are pleased that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has now received approval to begin testing for COVID-19, which means that the Massachusetts DPH will no longer have to wait for confirmation from the CDC and patients and their healthcare providers will receive the results of tests much sooner,” said Dr. Haessler.

Stay Informed

The latest updates from Baystate Health will be posted at