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Q: Who should be screened for COVID-19?

A: As COVID-19 spreads through communities, guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on who should be screened are changing and may continue to change.

If you experienced any of the following symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, or been in contact with a known coronavirus person, you should be screened.

Screenings will take place on someone experiencing fever with or without signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (cough, shortness of breath). Symptomatic patients who have been in close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient is considered high-risk and requires immediate testing. Due to widespread community transmission, travel is no longer a significant risk factor for screening COVID-19 patients.

In addition, given the increased evidence of community spread within the United States, CDC updated its guidelines to say a physician's suspicion for COVID-19 is sufficient indication for testing for what appears to be a milder case not requiring hospitalization. They will base this on the local outbreak situation, and evaluation of those with severe respiratory illness of unclear origin.

Q: If I believe I have symptoms of COVID-19 and that I meet one or more of the conditions that warrant screening or testing, should I come to SMRMC?

A: Call 601-249-3627 first. Most acute care hospitals in the state are prepared to receive COVID-19 patients, including screening, isolation and care as needed. Unlike in the Ebola crisis of a few years ago, COVID-19 patients do not receive added benefit from a higher level of care offered by medical centers that are tertiary, meaning those that treat more severe conditions that require specialized knowledge and more intensive health monitoring.

Q: Regardless of where I might seek care, what should I do first?

A: Call ahead to a health care provider or emergency department and tell them if you are having symptoms that might be caused by COVID-19. By calling ahead, you allow providers time to take steps to keep other people from potential exposure before your arrival. Providers will use a screening tool to determine if you need to be isolated and tested for the virus.

If you are at home, as much as you can, stay in a specific room away from other people and pets. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Stay home except to get medical care. Wear a facemask if you are around other people in a room or vehicle, around pets, or in a provider’s office.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, throw away the tissue, then immediately wash your hands. Avoid sharing personal household items with people or pets, and clean all high-touch surfaces daily.

If your symptoms worsen, including difficulty breathing, seek prompt medical attention. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the dispatcher that you have or are being evaluated for COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before help arrives.

Q: Is anyone more susceptible to COVID-19 compared with the general population?

A: Any person, of any age, can be infected with COVID-19. Those with serious health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer or other illnesses that compromise the immune system are more likely to experience complications from COVID-19, flu or pneumonia. The very young and the very old also are often more at risk.

Q: How deadly is COVID-19?

A: We don’t fully know, but signs suggest many people have had mild cases and recovered without special treatment. The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the global mortality rate for COVID-19 was 3.4 percent, which is higher than previously estimated. It is a figure that primarily reflects the outbreak in China, where the vast majority of cases are. The figures are expected to change over time and vary from place to place, WHO says.

In comparison, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, coronavirus outbreak of 2003 had a fatality rate of 9.6 percent. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus has a 34.4 percent fatality rate, with cases still occurring since an initial outbreak in September 2012, WHO estimates. The fatality rate for the seasonal flu, based on much more complete data, is less than 1 percent.

Q: What are the main symptoms of COVID-19? Are they the same for the flu?

A: Patients with confirmed COVID-19 have mild to severe respiratory illness accompanied by fever, cough and shortness of breath, and that can be true with flu. Just as with the flu, the symptoms of COVID-19 may or may not be mild.

Q: Whatis the incubation period for COVID-19?

A: The length of time between exposure to the virus and developing symptoms is estimated at anywhere from two to 14 days.

Q: How does COVID-19 spread?

A: The virus is spread by droplets created by coughing or sneezing, the same way the flu is spread. Someone can inhale the droplets and be infected, or touch their eyes, nose or mouth fingers that have been exposed to droplets. Spread can also occur from touching a contaminated surface and introducing the virus to your nose or mouth. How easily a virus spreads person to person can vary, and it’s not clear how easily COVID-19 spreads from person to person.

Q: What will SMRMC do if someone who might have COVID-19 comes to the Emergency Department or another outpatient area?

A: The Medical Center is questioning all patients arriving at the Emergency Department or any other outpatient areas, about their history of travel outside this country, and their exposure to any person who has traveled outside of the United States or who has a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

Screenings will take place on someone experiencing fever and signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness, and, in the last 14 days before symptoms appeared, had either a history of travel from any of five geographical areas outside the United States: China, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran; or close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient.

In addition, given the increased evidence of community spread within the United States, CDC updated its guidelines on March 4 to say a physician's suspicion for COVID-19 is sufficient indication for testing for what appears to be a milder case not requiring hospitalization. They will base this on the local outbreak situation, and evaluation of those with severe respiratory illness of unclear origin.

If someone screened at the Medical Center meets the criteria for possible COVID-19 exposure and is showing symptoms of the disease, they will be immediately quarantined to minimize exposure to other patients and the health care staff. Providers will put a surgical mask on them, take them to a private room and begin the process of minimizing contact and exposure to the virus by others.

Providers entering their rooms will wear personal protective gear – special masks, eye protection, gloves, gowns and other protection as necessary. No visitors will be allowed except for a child with a single parent.

Q: If you have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms, can you still spread it?

A: Yes – you can shed the virus and make others ill, even if you are not showing symptoms.

Q: How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

A: First and foremost, wash your hands properly and often – with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If that’s not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; stay home if you’re sick; cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash; and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

Q: Will the warmer weather stop COVID-19?

A: It’s not yet known if weather and temperature impact the spread of the virus.

Q: Should I avoid contact with my pets if I contract COVID-19?

A: The CDC recommends that you avoid contact not just with people, but with animals including pets if you have the virus. If possible, have another member of the household care for your pets while you are sick, and avoid contact with your pet such as snuggling, petting, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet, wash your hands before and after interaction and wear a facemask. There have been no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, and no reports of animals in this country being a source of COVID-19 infection but the CDC still advises restricted contact if you have the virus.