What kind of medical care do patients with COVID-19 need?
It’s the 20% of COVID-19 patients who get really, really sick that worry many of us in the infectious diseases field. A lot of these critically ill patients wind up needing to be hospitalized for their pneumonia-like illnesses. They typically require critical care and ventilation — special machines that help them breathe. And some need to stay on ventilators for weeks at a time. It’s this portion of patients that is most concerning. Depending on how many cases develop here in the U.S., providing that level of care for so many people over a number of weeks runs the risk of overwhelming the nation’s health care system pretty quickly. We can help prevent this kind of “surge” in patients by practicing social distancing (see below for more explanation).
How do you screen patients for COVID-19?
At UChicago Medicine, our teams are following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means we’re asking any patient who has respiratory symptoms and a fever if they’ve traveled to the affected areas in the past two weeks or been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Patients who answer yes will immediately be given a facemask and put in an isolation room, which has special airflow designed to keep airborne germs from getting out into other rooms. Then, they’ll be tested for the usual seasonal respiratory viruses and, if those are negative, tests will be sent for COVID-19 as well. Turnaround time on the COVID lab test is 1-2 days. People will need to remain in isolation until they’re cleared. But they may not need to stay in the hospital. Most patients are well enough to rest at home while waiting for the test results.
We’re also instructing our clinical teams to follow standard infection control protocols. Our doctors, nurses and other clinical staff will wear protective gear, such as gowns, gloves, masks and eye shields. That’s what they do with anyone who has something like the flu and it’s the same steps we followed during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. We’re also reminding everyone to make sure to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces — that’s good practice any time of the year, and especially during flu season.