As it grapples with COVID-19, the US healthcare system is currently experiencing unprecedented strain on its resources. Understanding the precautions you can take now, symptoms to watch out for, and when to get tested – and when not to, will help healthcare workers on the frontlines focus on the most in need. It will also help you avoid unnecessarily exposing yourself to coronavirus or other illnesses.
Below are some important reminders and resources available to you and your members based on current guidelines, which are subject to change as new data emerges:
What is “Social Distancing”:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “social distancing” – deliberately increasing the physical space between people by avoiding crowds or crowded spaces – along with basic health precautions, is the most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing opportunities for the virus to transmit from person to person. Examples of social distancing include maintaining at least six feet distance from others, not shaking hands or contacting a person during a greeting, limiting visitors, avoiding gatherings, working at home, and remote learning.
What is “Flatten the Curve”:
- Flattening the curve refers to how the rate of infection, instead of rising exponentially, will decelerate or “flatten out” if people practice social distancing. By reducing the number of people who get sick at the same time, social distancing helps stagger the number of new cases over a longer period. This avoids overburdening the healthcare system’s workers, facilities, and equipment at any one time. A flattened curve helps providers, many of whom already operate close to capacity, get people the care they need whether they have coronavirus or not.
What is “Self-quarantine”:
- Health experts recommend that people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are at risk practice self-quarantining for 14 days from the last day of possible exposure, enough time for you to know whether or not you are ill and/or contagious. Self-quarantine includes practicing standard hygiene and frequent hand-washing, not sharing things like towels and utensils, staying at home, not having visitors, monitoring your symptoms, and keeping safe distance from others in your household.
What is “Self-isolation”:
- For people who test positive for COVID-19 and do not have severe illness, doctor-advised isolation at home can protect others in your household and in your community.
- CDC recommends those with mild illness stay home except to get medical care, stay in touch with their doctor, stay away from others, avoid public transportation, limit contact with pets and animals, wear a facemask if sick, wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid sharing personal household items, clean surfaces often, and monitor symptoms.
Who is at risk for infection:
- While people of all ages can get infected with COVID-19, the CDC states that older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions – such as chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, heart disease with complications, compromised immune systems, including people undergoing cancer treatment, severe obesity, diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease – are at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19.
How can I protect myself:
- The respiratory illness COVID-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth when the person coughs or exhales. These droplets can land on surfaces later touched by another person or be breathed in by someone in close proximity. In addition to social distancing, wash hands often and thoroughly with soap, sneeze and cough into a tissue and discard it immediately or sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your face, and clean surfaces that are touched often. The CDC now recommends to all individuals the use of cloth face coverings when in public, especially in settings where social distancing may be difficult to practice (grocery stores, for example) and in communities where there is a high rate of transmission.
Should I get tested/what are the symptoms:
- Both the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) offer an interactive symptom self-checker to help you determine if testing is recommended, and New York DOH has issued its guidelines for testing. Bear in mind, testing capacity is limited at this time and not necessary for everyone. Unnecessary testing increases your exposure to coronavirus and places additional strain on a healthcare system already operating at full capacity. Some people may become infected but don’t develop symptoms and don’t feel unwell. About 80% recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
- The CDC recommends individuals stay home and call ahead to your provider if you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing, particularly if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with widespread COVID-19 infection. Your provider will be able to evaluate your symptoms for coronavirus or the common cold, allergy, influenza or other possible causes. This helpful chart compares the symptoms of these conditions; consult your doctor with questions.
- For individuals with severe underlying medical conditions or those who are immunocompromised, CDC advises you to seek care early if you suspect exposure to coronavirus, even if your symptoms are mild.
- If the symptoms are severe – such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face – you should seek care immediately.
- Individuals without severe symptoms or illness should avoid the emergency room to limit inadvertent exposure to coronavirus.
How can I get tested:
- Many doctors can determine if testing is necessary through an in-person or virtual visit and direct you to the best location for specimen collection (a nasopharyngeal swab which takes a sample through the nose from the back of the nose and throat to detect the virus in the upper respiratory tract). The specimen is then sent to an approved lab for analysis.
- Call ahead to your provider to confirm they have the resources to conduct diagnostic testing and to help the office protect themselves and their patients.
- Individuals without severe illness should avoid the emergency room to minimize the risk of inadvertent exposure to coronavirus or other illnesses.
- As of today, BioReference Laboratories, LabCorp, and Quest Diagnostics, our in-network labs, are receiving specimens from providers, but please note that they do not perform the specimen collection.
Where can I get tested:
- The best place to start is by calling ahead to your regular doctor who may be able to give a consultation virtually.
- If you don’t have a primary care doctor, the next best option is a telehealth vendor, which allows you to consult a provider from the safety of your home. Livehealthonline.com as well as telehealth services from health systems are two vendor options that members can use today. They will be responsible for the fee at the time of the visit. Payment is by credit card. View more information and a list of health system telehealth resources
- Alternatively, check with your local DOH. While you may have heard about drive-through testing, it’s important to note that these locations are prioritizing high-risk individuals and require appointments. The goal of these sites is to increase the number of tests conducted and minimize the spread of infection at healthcare facilities.
- Call or visit the New York State DOH at 888-364-3065 or New Jersey DOH at 211 or 1-800-962-1253 for more information on testing and other COVID-19 matters.