By Eric Althoff
ATLANTA—As of the first week of March, there had been over 2,000 deaths worldwide due to the novel COVID-19 virus, also known as coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after the virus originated in China late in 2019. The CDC had reported 53 cases of the virus infecting people in the United States thus far, and the first deaths have been recorded on the West Coast, which has seen an outbreak especially in one of Seattle’s suburbs.
While the numbers of infections and deaths are likely not to approach the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918—which resulted in over 200,000 fatalities—U.S. hospitals nonetheless are preparing to deal with a massive number of infections. According to the Advisory Board, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville announced that all patients who enter the hospital with respiratory or fever symptoms will be asked if they have recently traveled to China or been in contact with an infected person. Furthermore, the hospitals affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta and UCLA in Los Angeles are preemptively adding travel-related questionnaires to their patient history forms.
The Advisory Board also reported that current protocols at hospitals will entail a rapid response time to ensure that patients who are potentially infectious are isolated to avoid further transmission. At the University of California, San Francisco, healthcare officials will be following a protocol set up during the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 to send patients suspected of having coronavirus to an isolation ward.
Elsewhere, an expert at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, near the hot zone of the U.S. outbreak, said that patients who are suspected of being infected with the coronavirus will have a surgical mask placed over their face to help stop the virus from spreading further in the hospital setting.
While surgical masks are key in hospitals and other healthcare settings to help prevent a pathogen such as novel coronavirus from spreading among staff and patients, many reports have come in of consumers “panic-shopping” for the masks and thus depleting supplies necessary for healthcare workers. As reported in the Washington Post the first week of March, Surgeon General Jerome Powell has said that the effectiveness of the surgical masks at preventing someone in the general public from contracting the virus is miniscule.
Despite the relatively few number of infections and deaths worldwide, public events have been canceled in many countries affected by the virus, including in hard-hit Italy, where the upcoming Six Nations rugby games will be played in empty stadiums as a precautionary measure to try to tamp down on further transmission.
Six Nations rugby games will be played in empty stadiums as a precautionary measure to try to tamp down on further transmission.