Charlotte hospital experts detail plans, advice after first NC coronavirus case

Charlotte hospital experts detail plans, advice after first NC coronavirus case
Coronavirus (Source: Summa Health)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Hannah Smoot/Charlotte Observer) - After North Carolina announced the state’s first reported case of novel coronavirus Tuesday, local hospital experts say they expect to see an increase in patient visits in the future.

But patients can take precautions against spreading the virus, like using hospitals’ virtual visit options.

And Charlotte hospitals are able to help test for the virus. They would send patient samples to the state or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for novel coronavirus testing, according to Atrium Health.

Charlotte hasn’t seen a confirmed case of coronavirus disease 2019, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told county commissioners Wednesday night. The illness, also known as COVID-19, is caused by the new strain of coronavirus that appeared late last year.

Mecklenburg County launched a COVID-19 information line Wednesday night at 980-314-9400 for people who may have been exposed to the virus, medical providers or community members with questions, Harris said.

Mecklenburg County had been monitoring four travelers from China who may have been exposed to the virus in early February, but did not report any positive tests.

The state’s first positive coronavirus test comes from a Wake County person who traveled to the state of Washington and was exposed to the virus at a long-term care facility.

Charlotteans should stay calm, take common sense precautions against illnesses and stay in touch with their doctors, Atrium Health infectious disease expert Catherine Passaretti said.

Atrium patients can meet with doctors online to avoid spreading germs through the hospital system’s “Virtual Visits” and “eVisits.”

“While you’re in common areas, there’s potential for transmission,” Passaretti said.

Virtual visits can minimize risk of spreading illnesses — and can help the hospital manage sick patients better.

Atrium, Charlotte’s biggest hospital system, is expecting to see an increase in patient visits, Passaretti said. A virtual visit is a useful screening tool for doctors, who can tell patients if they need to come to a hospital or clinic, or can stay home.

Novant Health, Charlotte’s second largest hospital system, also offers E-visits and video visits for existing patients.

Novant is monitoring the virus, and is reinforcing face mask policies and travel history screenings, according to the hospital.

People with coronavirus disease 2019 symptoms, like fever, cough and shortness of breath, should wear face masks. But the masks aren’t meant to keep already healthy people protected from infections, State Health Director Elizabeth Tilson said in a Wednesday news conference.

FLU VS. COVID-19

Not everyone with those symptoms will need to be tested for coronavirus, Passaretti said.

“The focus right now is primarily on patients that are sick enough to be hospitalized, or known contacts of a confirmed case,” she said.

Flu and COVID-19 symptoms are very similar — and so are the methods to stay healthy, Passaretti said. People can prevent the spread of the virus by washing their hands and staying home from work when sick.

But there’s a big difference in the flu and coronavirus disease 2019, Passaretti said.

People have been getting the flu — and flu vaccines — for years, building up immunity.

But coronavirus disease 2019 is a new virus to humans. That means more people are susceptible to getting sick from it, Passaretti said.

“Luckily, the mortality, the death rate from this virus is relatively low compared to some other infectious disease,” she said.

Atrium and Novant have been working with local, state and national health officials to monitor the virus’ spread. As of Wednesday, the Wake County case was the only positive coronavirus test in the state.

“It’s worth thinking ahead,” Passaretti said. “We’re not sure how much of an impact this is going to have in our local area, or even in the United States.”