What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and how are we preparing? Epidemiologist Jorge Salinas, MD, fills us in

With the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, we spoke with hospital epidemiologist Jorge Salinas, MD, to learn more about the virus, how it spreads, and how UI Hospitals & Clinics is prepared to deal with it.

Do you have questions about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus? Direct questions to Hospital Epidemiology by calling 319-356-1606 or by paging 3158.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses and include MERS, SARS, as well as the common cold. They are often found in animals, and COVID-19 is thought to have originated in a large seafood and live animal market.

Jorge Salinas, MD, hospital epidemiologist

What is the difference between a coronavirus and a novel coronavirus?

Whereas coronavirus is the family of viruses, a novel coronavirus (CoV) is simply a new strain of coronavirus that had not yet been located in humans.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?

Symptoms that are associated with this include things such as fever, cough, muscle pain, and shortness of breath. It can produce pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis or septic shock.

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

Similar to the person-to-person spread of MERS and SARS, we believe that the spread of COVID-19 occurs when respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei (such as from a cough or a sneeze) are produced by an infected person. This is also similar how the flu and other respiratory viruses spread.

How are we at UI Hospitals & Clinics preparing for COVID-19?

It’s important to remember that we have world-renowned experts in the field of coronaviruses. We also have a Bio-Emergency Response Team, which is comprised of experts from across the hospital who review and enact protocols and best practices when it comes to infections disease management and prevention. We are fully prepared to diagnose and treat any potential patient who might be infected with this virus should the need arise.

What should faculty and staff do if a patient presents with onset of fever, cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of return from China, Italy, Iran, Japan, or South Korea?

If a patient presents with onset of fever, cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of return from China, Italy, Iran, Japan, or South Korea:

  • Place a surgical mask on the patient and move the patient to a private room (airborne isolation room if available).
  • Immediately contact Infection Prevention on call (pager 3158).
  • Health care workers entering the patient room should follow standard precautions, contact precautions, and airborne precautions by wearing the following:
    • Gown
    • Gloves
    • N95 respirator mask or CAPR (controlled air purifying respirator)
    • Goggles or face shield
    • Limit access to the patient room to the minimum number of care providers.

What should UI Health Care employees returning to work after travel to China do?

At this time, we are asking UI Health Care employees who are returning to work within 14 days of their return from China to:

  • Please contact University Employee Health Clinic at 319-356-3631 prior to returning to work. If you are currently at work after recent return from China, please contact University Employee Health Clinic immediately.
  • After business hours and on weekends, please contact the Program of Hospital Epidemiology by paging 3158.

What can we do to prevent COVID-19?

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Everyday precautions, such as what you would do to prevent the spread of the flu, should be taken, including:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Where should faculty and staff go if they have questions about COVID-19?

Please direct any questions to 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).