William R. Hathaway, MD

William R. Hathaway, MD

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19). As of March 4, according to the CDC, there are 60 confirmed cases, 6 deaths and 12 states reporting cases in the US. Worldwide, more than 50 countries have confirmed COVID-19 cases, and there are more than 2,000 deaths. The CDC says that “more cases are likely to be identified in the coming days.”

North Carolina reported it’s first case of COVID-19 on March 3. That means there’s a good chance it could reach us here in western North Carolina at some point. William R. Hathaway, MD, FACC, Chief Medical Officer, North Carolina Division, HCA Healthcare, offers information to clear up some of the mystery surrounding the COVID-19.

What makes the COVID-19 different from the flu? There are many similarities. Both the COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms and methods of transmission to other people, and neither virus is treatable with antibiotics, although antiviral therapy has been used to limit flu symptoms and decrease transmissibility. In both cases, treatment is supportive and addressing the symptoms, such as reducing fever, treating cough and providing respiratory support. Hospitalization may be required for severe cases of both flu and COVID-19 and superinfection with bacteria is a concern.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the COVID-19 SARS-CoV, is one of a number of coronaviruses. Influenza is caused by two types of flu, commonly referred to as A and B, which mutate easily creating the need for annual vaccination. Although in development, we have no vaccine for COVID-19.

What currently is the threat to people here in western North Carolina? Right now, there is little risk to us in western North Carolina, as elsewhere in the US, but the situation changes daily. The CDC is closely monitoring the situation in the US and worldwide, and sharing information.

Is Mission Health monitoring the spread of the COVID-19? Yes, Mission Health is working closely with local and state health departments, HCA at the corporate level and the CDC to assure the safety of our patients, staff and the community. Our Infection Prevention team is staying in close touch with local and state officials, and keeping hospital leaders abreast of any new information.

We also have protocols in place to protect our healthcare workers who may come in contact with possible COVID-19 patients. And, we’re currently screening all patients who have recently traveled or come in close contact with people who have traveled.

What do we know about how COVID-19 is transmitted? COVID-19 is believed to be spread mainly from person-to-person between people in close contact within 6 feet of each other. Like the flu, transmission occurs through coughing and sneezing, when the droplets land in people’s mouths or noses, possibly inhaled into their lungs. It may also be spread by touching something with the virus on it, like a door knob, and then touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

There’s a lot of talk in the news about facemasks. What do recommend? The CDC doesn’t recommend wearing a facemask for protection against COVID-19, as with other respiratory diseases, if you aren’t sick. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s recommended that people showing respiratory symptoms wear a facemask to diminish risk of spread.

How can we protect ourselves from the COVID-19? Use your common sense and follow the same rules as with the flu: avoid contact with sick people, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces with wipes and spray cleaners. If you’re sick, stay home until you feel better.

What should people do if they think they’ve got COVID-19? Call your doctor to make a medical appointment, and let them know you think that you have COVID-19. Follow any directions they tell you. Avoid being around other people. Don’t go to work or school, and avoid public transportation. Wear a facemask. When you sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in a lined trash can. Immediately wash your hands or wipe thoroughly with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60-90 percent alcohol.

Is there anything else that you would like to add? Be assured that we are working collaboratively and diligently to prepare for arrival of COVID-19 to our community. It is impossible to predict the impact we will see, but planning at all levels will put us in the best position to address these unknowns.

William R. Hathaway, MD, FACC, is Chief Medical Officer, North Carolina Division, HCA Healthcare.

If you are in need of care, there is a Mission Health emergency room or walk-in clinic near you.

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