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Coronavirus Questions Answered: Hospital Preparedness, Travel Concerns

Health reporter Lisa Ryan spoke with people on the Healthline and at bus stops along the route about their knowledge of coronavirus and any questions they might have.
Health reporter Lisa Ryan spoke with people on the Healthline and at bus stops along the route about their knowledge of coronavirus and any questions they might have.

What are your questions about the coronavirus?

ideastream is answering as many questions as possible, with help from local experts in a range of fields. You can send us your questions with our online form, through our social media pages and group or call us at 216-916-6476. We'll keep the answers coming on our website and on the air.

Kicking things off, Kate asked on Facebook: " Are local hospitals making plans to accommodate a surge in patients and help contain a possible outbreak even within the hospital, by keeping it from spreading to staff and other patients?" 

Dr. Amy Edwards, an infectious disease physician at University Hospitals, said hospitals are always prepared for an outbreak.

"Our hospital, and many large hospitals around the country, do regular disaster preparedness, and we even do disaster drills throughout the year," Edwards said. "Whenever there is mention or we get word of specific events or outbreaks, we ramp up our preparedness."

Many local hospitals are also enacting a travel screening protocol to screen patients for the coronavirus, and MetroHealth says preparing for a potential Ebola outbreak five years ago will also help them if a coronavirus outbreak occurs in Northeast Ohio. 

Kate also asked: " W hat should people be doing to make a determination about if/when to go to the hospital or urgent care if they exhibit symptoms?" ​

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Spokeswoman Melanie Amato says people should call the local health department. If you're in Cleveland,  here's the contact information for the Cleveland Department of Public Health. If you're in Cuyahoga County, you can call the number listed here

But Edwards said not everyone will feel comfortable reaching out to their health department. 

"That can be daunting, and it's a little scary," Edwards said. "And so I think I would call your doctor, and if you're not sure, you're welcome to call the hospital, and we can put you in touch with somebody that can help answer your questions. Obviously, if you're very, very ill, you would need to come to the ER. We don't want people to stay home if they're having trouble breathing."

If you do go to the doctor or emergency room, she said, you should immediately notify the staff about your concerns based on your symptoms or travel history and possible exposure to coronavirus.

Lynne asked on Facebook: "International flying is definitely a concern, but what about domestic travel?"

The CDC has travel advisories for certain international countries, like China and Italy, which have seen outbreaks. Amato said there is no travel advisory for flying state-to-state, so right now, domestic travel is safe. 

But Adele, a Case Western Reserve University student from St. Louis, wanted to know: How communicable is the virus on planes? 

Amato says the virus is spread through person-to-person contact, so planes can potentially lead to the spread of the coronavirus, but so can any location where people are in close contact.

"Since it is respiratory, it is spread through air, just like a kind of flu," Amato said. "Right now, you have to be in contact with a person who has it."

According to the CDC, it may also be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface, such as an airplane tray table, that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, and eyes, but this isn't thought to be the main way it spreads.

Adele also asked: How likely are people from the Midwest to get the coronavirus?

Some states in the Midwest, like Ohio, haven't seen any cases yet because we don't have airports that connect travelers to any of the high-risk places, Amato said. But Midwestern states are preparing for its likely spread.

"It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness," a CDC representative said in a call.  

And since it is an airborne virus, Edwards says wearing a mask likely won't help. The masks people buy online are porous and some airborne particles can still get through. There are some masks that completely keep out all germs, but those require the mask to be properly fitted to the individual person's face. The CDC agrees, saying face masks should be used only by people who have COVID-19, in order to protect others from getting infected, and by health workers and caregivers. 

Washing your hands remains the easiest, most recommended way of protecting yourself from the coronavirus, and other viruses.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158