FAQ about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) LATEST

See how Northwell is responding to the outbreak and what you should do if feeling sick:

Northwell Health remains on heightened alert as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, especially after cases continue to be confirmed in New York.

The health system has been utilizing its Emergency Operations Center, which allows Northwell to quickly mobilize system-wide resources, personnel and supplies — medications, N95 protective respirators and other personal protective equipment. Due to its proximity to JFK International Airport, Northwell has also taken several precautions at its hospitals and ambulatory practices to ensure the safety of all patients and staff.

Outbreaks are always a public health concern, so it’s essential that health care workers and the public at-large avoid contact with the virus, protect themselves, control the potential spread of the virus and offer or receive the best treatment options should they become infected.

The following answers some frequently asked questions about the virus and Northwell’s approach to containing and treating it.

“If you aren’t feeling well, the best advice is to stay home and rest. Drink plenty of clear fluids. If symptoms persist or worsen, call your primary care physician or other health care provider.”

What is COVID-19?

While coronaviruses are common throughout the world, scientists have identified seven different types of the virus, from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This novel coronavirus is called COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that primarily spreads when coming in contact with the respiratory droplets — coughing, sneezing, saliva or nasal discharge — from an infected person. Most patients with COVID-19 have had links to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.

However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting limited person-to-person spread is occurring. Current evidence shows all usual infection control practices are effective in limiting transmission.

To minimize spreading the virus, it is critical to practice good hygiene, washing your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water. Also, make sure to cough or sneeze into your flexed elbow and immediately discard tissues after being used.

What are the symptoms?

People with COVID-19 usually have a fever, in a small percent of cases respiratory symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, sore throat and runny nose. Symptoms can progress to pneumonia and other complications, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), kidney failure and even death. Fortunately most cases of the novel coronavirus have mild to moderate illness no different than the flu.

Is there a treatment for COVID-19?

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, many of the symptoms can be treated based on your clinical condition. Supportive care for infected persons can be highly effective.

If I have flu-like symptoms, what should I do?

If you aren’t feeling well, the best advice is to stay home and rest. Drink plenty of clear fluids. If symptoms persist or worsen, call your primary care physician or other health care provider.

Consider urgent care centers if necessary, but avoid going to emergency departments—which are historically busy this time of year—unless your symptoms worsen and you have no other options to receive care.

If you have not traveled to China or other affected areas and you have no other risk factors, you probably have the flu, not COVID-19.

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Has Northwell had any confirmed cases?

At this time, Northwell has no confirmed patients with the novel coronaviruses being treated at any of our 23 hospitals, but we have tested several patients whose travel histories and symptoms indicated they may be at risk.

As cases of the virus continue to be confirmed throughout the US, Northwell has been taking proactive steps to address this rapidly developing situation to protect our staff and the communities we serve.

How is COVID-19 tested?

Northwell tests individuals who are symptomatic and whose travel history suggests they may have been exposed. Testing is currently coordinated through the city, county and state health departments.

The tests, which take samples of mucus and saliva, were previously sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratories in Atlanta and had a three-day wait time for confirmation. But the US Food & Drug Administration recently relaxed that process, allowing outside labs to conduct testing.

Northwell Labs will begin testing for COVID-19 as soon as possible. The health system has reported all suspected COVID-19 cases to local health departments, which determine whether patients need to be tested. The tests are then submitted to the CDC laboratory. Northwell Labs is in the process of creating a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

Manual testing for coronavirus would begin with 75-100 tests processed daily. Once the lab automates the process, it will have the capability to process hundreds and eventually thousands of tests daily.

Who is Northwell testing?

Given the limited testing capacity at this time we are reserving the COVID-19 test for patients who are at the highest risk for severe disease. We are working diligently with state and local health departments to expedite our testing capacity as quickly as possible.

How serious is COVID-19 risk compared to flu risk?

You are at far greater risk of contracting the flu than COVID-19 at the current time. The flu has already killed more than 18,000 people in the U.S. this season. If you haven’t received the flu vaccine yet, do so immediately. The best way to avoid getting sick is to vigilantly wash your hands, and avoid close contact with sick people and congested areas.

What if I was in close contact with someone who has been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient?

The CDC does not recommend testing, symptom monitoring or special management for people exposed to asymptomatic people with potential exposures to COVID-19, such as in a household, workplace or social setting.

What is Northwell’s plan to minimize the spread of COVID-19?

The health system has a sophisticated emergency response plan that has effectively managed previous infectious disease outbreaks, including SARS in 2003, H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and Ebola in 2014.

In coordination with our Emergency Management team, we’ve implemented existing guidelines and procedures to identify potential patients as soon as they enter the health system’s hospitals and other facilities. These comprehensive guidelines direct employees through the appropriate disease recognition, infection prevention, treatment, isolation and reporting protocols.

Clinicians also stand ready at various ports of entry, who are on alert to identify those who are sick or at risk. Patients who are suspected of having novel coronavirus are isolated appropriately.

In addition, Northwell activated its Emergency Operations Center, which allows the health system to take proactive steps to monitor and address this rapidly developing situation from one centralized location and respond to the needs of Northwell’s hospitals and outpatient facilities, including the distribution of medications, supplies and personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators, gowns, gloves and goggles worn by clinicians that are at high-risk for caring for potential patients.

How is Northwell protecting staff?

All front-line providers in Northwell’s Emergency Departments are wearing personal protective equipment including respiratory protection, gowns, gloves and protective goggles and trained on appropriate use to reduce exposure when a potential case presents. We remain vigilant in performing hand hygiene when removing personal protective equipment and routinely practicing hand hygiene, routinely cleaning equipment and adhering to environmental cleaning and disinfection each day, as well as when patients are discharged. We are also following waste management protocols after treating patients with suspect/confirmed COVID-19.

As a whole, Northwell is following standards that meet and go beyond the CDC’s recommendations. The COVID-19 outbreak is an evolving situation and the health system stands ready to adhere to changing recommendations from regulatory agencies.

Any limitations on visitation?

Due to the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), visitation in all Northwell Health hospitals and Concorde is being limited.

Effective immediately, anyone meeting the following criteria should not visit patients:

  • Has signs or symptoms of respiratory infection, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.
  • Had contact with someone with a suspected or a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Anyone under 18 years of age (exceptions may apply to Maternal Child Units).

Thank you for your cooperation in protecting our patients, their families and our team members.

What else can I do to stay well during this crisis?

Remaining in good physical and emotional health is important as COVID-19 continues to spread. Consider the following tips:

  • Obtain your flu shot if you have not already.
  • Exercise good judgement by avoiding non-essential travel to impacted areas identified by the CDC.
  • Take practical steps such as routine hand-washing to protect yourself and your families.

Other helpful information on COVID-19 can be found on the CDC website.