Just like North Texas hospitals, MedStar says it is adding to its screening process as health officials worldwide continue to monitor the spread of coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some are mild, such as the common cold, while others are more likely to lead to pneumonia.
Matt Zavadsky, with MedStar, said the healthcare group was working with local and regional authorities, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health. There are daily conference calls to provide updates on the virus, along with recommendations for hospitals, physicians and EMS providers.
If a patient experiences a respiratory ailment, MedStar staff will question them on their recent travel history to see if they have been to areas where the virus has been suspected, or if they have been in close contact with someone who has been to those regions.
The virus has killed 26 people and infected hundreds, with most of the cases and all of the deaths occurring in China. One case in Texas tested negative for coronavirus, while testing is ongoing for three others.
Zavadsky said special kits with protective equipment were available for field crews on every call, which include gowns and face masks with splash guards.
“One of the new things that we’re doing is if a patient has a respiratory condition -- they’re coughing, they’re sneezing, they may have that type of virus -- we’re putting a surgical mask on the patient in addition to perhaps on the responding crew,” he said.
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NBC News reported the virus has prompted unprecedented shutdowns, including transportation in Wuhan, China, where it originated, along with at least 13 surrounding cities in the Hubei province. Shutdowns affected millions of people during Lunar New Year, the country’s most important holiday.
For some North Texans, news of the virus spreading hit home. Wen Zhao has friends who live in Wuhan, with family about three hours away from the city.
“We’re always worried, but it’s something you have no control over and you just have to pray,” Zhao said. “My grandpa is 85, so I try to tell him not to go out and stay home.”
At a Lunar New Year celebration Saturday, Anna Song came prepared with a face mask in her purse.
“As long as you keep good hygiene, people are washing hands, and make sure you don’t go into a crowd where you know people are coughing and sneezing, I think we should be okay,” Song said.
MedStar officials said on average, they get 11 calls a day from patients with symptoms that could be mimicking the coronavirus. However, Zavadsky noted calls related to respiratory illnesses typically run higher this time of year.
This is why the extra screening and questions are needed, he said.
“This is a time we need to be a diligent, but we don’t need to panic,” he said. “We’ve gone through the training, we’ve gone through the orientation, we’re getting continuous updates from the CDC and from the public health officials so we are prepared.”