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Do you have new coronavirus symptoms? Here's what to do

Stephanie Innes
Arizona Republic

Are you worried you have the new coronavirus?

Here are some suggestions on what to do.

Consider these alternatives to the emergency room

Having a fever, cough and shortness of breath is concerning, but health officials advise not to rush to the emergency room unless it's a life-threatening situation.  

Consider alternatives, like urgent care or a primary-care provider.

"Ideally we would like people to seek care in the most appropriate location. We'd like to reserve emergency departments for people truly having an emergency," said Dr. Michael White, chief medical officer for Valleywise Health in Phoenix.

The new coronavirus has "spikes" that allow the virus to attach to host cells and infect the host.

 "We recognize they may not have an established primary care physician, but there are health providers at other venues that might be more appropriate than the ER."

Telemedicine, where patients are seen via their computer or smartphone, is also a good alternative to the emergency room for someone showing mild symptoms of COVID-19, Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, told the Arizona Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. 

Keeping people who are not seriously ill out of emergency rooms will help protect Arizona's health care system, she said.

"Most people would likely be fine at home, making sure they drink lots of liquids," Christ said.

Citing data published from China, she said 81% of new coronavirus cases are mild.

The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they're also similar to the flu and other viral respiratory illnesses. 

Who's at greatest risk?

People who are elderly and/or people with underlying medical conditions are at highest risk of severe disease. Also at risk are people who have recently traveled to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

So far, children do not appear to be as impacted by the virus as they are by the flu.

There's a vaccine and known treatments for the flu, but no vaccine and no proven treatments for new coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19.

Call ahead, so provider can prepare

Patients who do end up going to a doctor's office or urgent care for a visit, make sure to call ahead so they can prepare for you, White said. Many local clinics have protocol in place for people with potentially infectious illnesses, and they want to avoid exposing other patients at the facility.

The same is true for anyone who does go to the emergency room and is showing COVID-19 symptoms, White said. Make sure to call ahead. You don't want to spread illness to people in the waiting room, and you also don't want to contract any illnesses from them either.

Emergency rooms see people with severe conditions and are often in immediate jeopardy due to heart attacks, strokes, and severe injuries.

"If you have severe trouble breathing or you feel really uncomfortable, yes, you should go to the ER," White said. "You should also let them know you are coming so they can be prepared to meet and screen you immediately."

If someone has symptoms of new coronavirus and they are not elderly and do not have an underlying health condition, they may not be a high priority when it comes to who is seen first. In other words, you could be there for hours with a lot of ill people. Or worse, an overflow of patients in local emergency rooms could overwhelm the system and prevent those who are the most sick from getting the treatment they need.

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Take simple precautions to safeguard health

Arizona is in the midst of a busy flu season already, and it's important patients stay informed about how to keep both the flu and COVID-19 from spreading.  That means regular hand-washing, getting a flu shot and staying home from work or school when sick.

Public health officials believe COVID-19 spreads from person to person via droplets produced by someone infected with the virus, usually by coughing or sneezing.

How many cases have been reported in Arizona?

Arizona has had one confirmed case of new coronavirus and one presumed positive case. Neither of the patients has been seriously ill.

As of Wednesday, nearly 95,000 cases of COVID-19 illness had been reported globally in 73 countries. Of those illnesses, 3,214 deaths had been recorded.

The state health department is keeping a tally of new coronavirus cases here, including the number of people tested. As of Thursday, 36 people had been tested. In addition to the two positive tests, six had pending results.

The state health department this week had scheduled a series of web seminars targeted to workers in specific professions and communities such as law enforcement, long-term care institutions and health insurance.

Reach the reporter at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes

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