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Coronavirus: What Healthcare Facilities Need to Do to Prepare

Despite governments around the world quickly taking action to contain the novel coronavirus that appeared in China in December 2019, the disease has spread to countries around the globe. The coronavirus disease has been named COVID-19, and it is caused by the virus named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2).

Note: Prior to the World Health Organization (WHO) naming the disease COVID-19, it was referred to as 2019-nCoV, so that name appears in many documents written by CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) prior to the official naming, but both terms are names for the same disease.

Be Ready in Case COVID-19 Spreads in the U.S.

At least 4043 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the U.S. and have been contained, but it is important for healthcare providers to be ready in case an outbreak occurs.

Providers need to be aware of the latest information available from the CDC. They have dedicated a page on their website to COVID-19 that gives links to all the most current, relevant information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Aggressive measures are being taken to prevent coronavirus disease from spreading into the U.S. Foreign nationals who have been in China in the past 33 days are not allowed to enter the country. U.S. citizens, residents and their immediate family members who have been in Hubei Province and some other locations in China are able to enter but are subject to health monitoring and may even be quarantined for 14 days.

Dealing with Potentially Infected Patients

As far as dealing with patients generally, the most important step is to make sure all procedures are being followed that relate to the prevention and control of infection and preventing the spread of infection. These procedures are especially important for public health responders who may encounter a person who has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 without knowing it.

The CDC has published a Healthcare Professional Preparedness Checklist For Transport and Arrival of Patients Potentially Infected with 2019-nCoV (COVID-19), which is an excellent resource. Some of the items on the list are specific actions and others, such as, “Stay up to date on the latest information about signs and symptoms, diagnostic testing, and case definitions for 2019-nCoV disease” are much more general, but will help caregivers be aware of all the areas of specialized information they need to know.

Testing for the Virus

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services declared the SARS-CoV-2 virus a U.S. public health emergency on January 31, 2020. A few days later, at the request of the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a new test kit called the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel.”

The assay is only available to CDC-qualified labs that are certified to perform high complexity tests under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). Test kits are being sent to qualified labs in the state and local public health sectors, Department of Defense labs, and also some international labs.

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