GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some concerns about coronavirus are legitimate, but others have taken on a life of their own.
Amid all the fear, local health care providers are offering one important piece of advice:
“Don’t panic,” said Julie Bulson, head of emergency preparedness for Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. “The states are planning, the feds are planning.”
That may be easier said than done. Talk of a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, the coronavirus illness that has affected tens of thousands of people in China, and images of isolation suit-clad crews spraying down public sites with bug killer in countries abroad pop up in newsfeeds every hour. It has created a challenge for local providers.
“How do we communicate out to the community and help them understand what’s the best way to stay safe?” Bulson pondered.
The United States has recorded only 14 cases of COVID-19, and none of them have been in Michigan.
“Inevitably, the number are going to increase in the United States. We expect that,” she continued. “The mortality rate right now is less than the flu, and the severity of the disease right now is less than the flu.”
Still, local health care providers are ready in case of coronavirus walks through the door. Bulson said the first question you’ll get from an emergency room admissions person is, “Have you traveled internationally over the last month?”
The same goes for paramedics and 911 operators if you call for help.
“Should you say, ‘Yes, I’ve been to mainland China,’ they’ll provide a mask to you. They’ll bring you in to an isolation room,” Bulson said.
More tests would follow to confirm a coronavirus diagnosis.
It’s all part of an all-hazards emergency plan followed by Spectrum Health and other local hospitals.
“It’s the same plan that we used during the 2008, 2009 H1N1 planning. It’s the same plan we used during all of the Ebola planning,” Bulson said.
If you were exposed and not showing signs of illness, chances are you’ll be sent home and monitored during a 14-day quarantine, receiving daily health checkups. If tests show you have coronavirus, you’ll get a hospital room all to yourself. Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital has a number of air-tight isolation rooms set aside.
“Our team has been meetings for the last six weeks, every week, to talk about the information that we’re getting from the CDC, from the federal planning level, from the state planning level,” Bulson said. “(We’re) digesting that information to determine what our best course of action is to keep our patients and our staff safe, and our community safe.”
Health officials continue to warn that the more common influenza strains are a greater public health risk. The good news is that the primary methods for preventing the two are one and the same:
“Good basic hand hygiene and flu etiquette,” Bulson said. “If we can continue to get that message, we’ll be fighting both diseases at the same time.”