5 things you should know this week about COVID-19

While the immediate health risk from the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Americans is considered low, awareness and prevention are key to reducing exposure.

COVID-19 has appeared in at least 60 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Here are five things UI Health Care faculty and staff should know this week about COVID-19:

Visit our frequently asked questions page to view more questions and answers.

1. Testing is now available in Iowa through our State Hygienic Laboratory.

A microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. Photo credit: CDC

We are prepared to treat patients who might be infected with this virus should the need arise.

Testing can now be done in Iowa through our State Hygienic Laboratory, but testing still must be approved by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

A person in California without any travel or contact history was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. This is evidence that community transmission is occurring in the parts of the U.S. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends testing people who are ill enough to be hospitalized for a respiratory tract infection (even if they haven’t traveled recently or had close contact with someone showing symptoms).

If you have questions about testing, view the latest FAQ on The Loop or contact the Program of Hospital Epidemiology by paging 3158.

2. Masks should be reserved for patients with respiratory symptoms and health care employees.

A face mask should be used by people who have cough or cold symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected.

The CDC does not recommend that members of the public who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. A person is more likely to get infected by touching contaminated surfaces than from a droplet traveling through the air.

The use of face masks also is crucial for health care employees. Faculty and staff who wear N95 masks as part of their jobs undergo a fit test to make sure there are no gaps around their mouths.

3. Our supply of personal protective equipment is adequate, but conserving it is essential.

Our current supply of personal protective equipment (PPE)—such as gowns, masks, gloves, and respirators— is currently adequate. Yet, the global demand for PPE is rising due to COVID-19 and shortages are expected. Conserving our PPE is essential to helping us prepare.

Health care team members caring for patients in isolation precautions should only include the minimum number of individuals necessary for ensuring proper patient care. Additionally, rounding teams should only have the attending and one house officer enter the rooms of patients in isolation precautions.

Faculty and staff are discouraged from stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE), and they should not take PPE home from UI Health Care locations.

4. Faculty and staff should avoid all nonessential travel to China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, and Japan.

The CDC has updated their guidance on affected geographic areas with widespread or sustained community transmission, including:

  • China (Level 3 – avoid all non-essential travel)
  • Italy (Level 3 – avoid all non-essential travel)
  • South Korea (Level 3 – avoid all non-essential travel)
  • Iran (Level 3 – avoid all non-essential travel)
  • Japan (Level 2 – practice enhanced precautions)

5. Your UI Health Care source for updated information and resources is The Loop.

The safety of our patients, faculty, staff, and volunteers is a top priority for University of Iowa Health Care. The Loop will continue to have up-to-date information and resources for health care employees regarding our preparation and response to COVID-19.

If you have specific questions about COVID-19, contact the Program of Hospital Epidemiology by calling 319-356-1606, paging 3158, or contact hospital epidemiologists Jorge Salinas (jorge-salinas@uiowa.edu), Dan Diekema (daniel-diekema@uiowa.edu), or Melanie Wellington (melanie-wellington@uiowa.edu).