Local medical experts are watching the coronavirus outbreak while urging Long Islanders to take precautions but not panic.
Dr. Andrew Patane, an internal medicine specialist at the NYU-Langone Huntington Medical Group, Wednesday emphasized the need to rely on standard health practices, such as washing hands and keeping a distance from those with a cough, as the best ways to avoid falling sick.
“Wash your hands frequently and if you do have a cough, put on a mask, and avoid people who are coughing. That’s still the best measure against sickness,” he said. “Coronavirus is not this magical virus. it’s a virus where’s there’s mild cases, moderate and unfortunately severe.
“But to keep things in perspective, the flu season has killed more than 14,000 people and caused another 250,000 to be hospitalized this year,” he said, adding that he has been seeing a large increase in patients with the flu. “This is one of the busiest flu seasons I’ve ever seen in 28 years I’ve been in practice in Huntington. It’s starting to slow down a little bit but it’s still out there.”
He also cited the value of vaccinations against known viruses. “Science makes it convincingly clear (that vaccines work) in minimizing morbidity and mortality.”
People’s fears are outpacing the reality, he said. “They need not have this fear. It’s getting a little out of control. Part of our responsibility is to reassure patients they need not be that scared. This is a constantly evolving situation.”
Noting a statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Hopefully the CDC predictions are wrong,” he said. “This is where the government steps in.”
The CDC said earlier this week that it had recorded the first case of “community spread” of the virus, meaning that it had found the first instance of illness in someone who had not traveled or been exposed to any known person with the disease. That means the source of the infection was unknown, that the disease could spread in the United States, and that people should begin making preparations.
Patane noted that fear has led people to suspect the wrong reasons for illness. He described talking recently with a patient who insisted her respiratory illness must have resulted from the coronavirus, and that she had to be tested. When it proved negative, she said she’d done something bad–two days before falling ill, she’d eaten takeout Chinese food, and wanted him to explain why she had gotten ill if not from that meal.
Meanwhile, Northwell Health said it is “closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China and has health officials worldwide on alert. We are adhering to CDC recommendations and actively working with the state and county departments of health.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the health system is implementing existing emergency response guidelines and procedures to identify potential patients, isolate them appropriately, ensure that our staff utilizes the recommended personal protective equipment, and provide for the safety of team members at all times,” the health system said. “Northwell’s Emergency Management team will continue to monitor its BioSurveillance platform to track patients with flu-like symptoms presenting in our emergency departments, and hospital bed availability and isolation capacity, ”
Dr. Mark Jarrett, Northwell’s chief quality officer, said, “If you have traveled to affected regions identified by the CDC and have respiratory symptoms, please alert your health care provider before going to the emergency department or an already scheduled appointment at Northwell.”
Patane noted that the NYU-Langone offers a virtual urgent care option, with videoconferencing with doctors, which he said could be especially useful for someone with mild respiratory symptoms.
Those interested in learning more about the coronavirus should consult the CDC website.
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