As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread across the globe, concerns are deepening with it—and rightfully so. Even experts don’t yet fully understand how the virus works. “There’s still uncertainty about all the ways this virus can spread,” says David Hooper, MD, Chief of Infection Control at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Furthermore, adds Dr. Hooper, COVID-19 has a higher hospitalization and mortality rate due to a current lack of available vaccines or antiviral treatment, particularly among older individuals.

“As you age, your ability to mount an immune response to fight off infection isn’t as strong as when you’re 20,” he explains.

Partners HealthCare’s role as Massachusetts’ largest health network, and our hospitals’ role as regional treatment centers for past outbreaks, positions us to lead the way in understanding and treating COVID-19 cases as they arise in our area. To support public health officials in more quickly identifying cases, Dr. Hooper and his colleagues are currently exploring alternatives to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) test kits, which would provide diagnosis at the point of care. And MGH is supporting Partners community hospitals in coordinating preparedness initiatives, such as the creation of isolation rooms with negative airflow at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

As COVID-19 runs its course, individuals can and should be vigilant about simple preventive measures such as hand washing. “Hand-washing and avoiding touching one’s face were found in studies to decrease the risk of SARS by 30-50 percent,” notes Paul Biddinger, MD, Chief of Emergency Preparedness, MGH. Other common-sense approaches include avoiding people who may be sick, staying home if you feel sick, and coughing into one’s sleeve (always).

What infectious disease experts recommend not to do: Don’t take matters into your own hands with panic-driven measures that lack good science behind them. They can actually backfire and put you at greater risk. Surgical masks, for instance, most likely will not help, their improper use may actually harm—and your purchasing such equipment could limit availability for health care workers who really need them.

"All of us in health care accept that exposure to infection is part of our job,” notes Paul Sax, MD, Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It is critical that we have access to specialized N95 masks and other gear, especially during procedures that increase the risk of exposure."

Despite valid concerns over hospitals’ capacity nationwide to care for cases that arise—and the probability that the virus has had time to spread in the US before accessible testing came online—Dr. Sax remains optimistic. He points to the relatively mild presentation in most cases of COVID-19, its lower impact on the pediatric population, and the public health community’s alignment in combating it. “It is wonderful to see the medical community responding in such a unified voice, all of us trying to solve this new problem,” adds Dr. Sax.

Read more in a Q&A with Dr. Sax, addressing his concerns and public misconceptions.

To stay up to date on Coronavirus preparedness, please reference our ongoing Partners HealthCare resources and announcement page here.

More COVID-19 resources:

Answers to common questions about COVID-19

At senior living homes, a heightened readiness as coronavirus looms

As coronavirus concerns grow, here’s how Massachusetts hospitals are getting ready for possible outbreaks

States and cities improvise with few virus test kits to be found

Topics: patient safety, Patient Experience, Global Impact

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