It was only a matter of time before the coronavirus, or COVID-19, that spread across China landed in Boston. The Boston Public Health Commission announced that as of Monday there was one confirmed case of coronavirus in Boston and eight cases that are presumed positive. The presumptive positive cases did not require hospitalization and are self-isolating at home. The CDC is currently testing to confirm these eight cases.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that includes MERS and SARS. The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
According to the BPHC there is no evidence of community transmission in Boston right now. The risk remains low, but this situation is evolving rapidly and changes day to day.
“BPHC is engaging in daily communications with the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), City of Boston departments and other community partners to make sure we have the latest information on guidance, best practices and recommendations,” said the BPHC in a statement. “BPHC will provide updated information on this website and on our social media channels as it becomes available. We are confident the City of Boston will be ready for a safe and effective response as the situation develops.”
Over at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center U.S. Congressman and Senate candidate Joseph Kennedy III participated in a roundtable at the Health Center to discuss the status, needs and preparedness for COVID-19. The goal of the meeting was to provide assistance to Kennedy in disseminating appropriate and timely information regarding the virus. The discussion consisted of best practices and recommendations on how to respond to COVID-19.
Of particular interest was the potential impact on Eastie’s senior population, the role of our emergency department and the partnership with Massport and the City’s Public Health Department.
“The coronavirus outbreak is the number one priority for the Health Center and the communities we serve. Like other healthcare organizations, we have enacted our Emergency Operations Planning and put protocols into place to ensure the safety of our staff, patients and members of our Neighborhood PACE program,” said EBNHC President and CEO Manny Lopes. “We are fortunate that we have had no active cases of the coronavirus present here at EBNHC but regardless we must remain vigilant. East Boston Neighborhood Health Center has been providing quality care to the residents of East Boston and our surrounding communities for the last 50 years and we remain steadfastly committed to caring for all in our community during this crisis. We will continue to work closely with the Department of Public Health, the Boston Department of Public Health and both State and Federal Government as every day brings forth new information and recommended guidelines.”
When the outbreak in Wuhan, China began, many patients reported links to a large seafood and animal market. This suggested that it was spread from animal to people. However, it is now clear that COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person. It is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on people who are nearby (within six feet). It may also be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
“To ensure the safety of staff and patients and to contain the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center has instituted a very thorough screening process in our Call Centers and in our various clinical departments,” said EBNHC Chief Medical Officer Jackie Fantes. “Patients are screened for symptoms if they have had any exposure or have traveled outside of the area recently. If testing is deemed necessary, the State Lab will process the results. We’re hoping to have access to private labs as well. Thankfully, flu season is subsiding and that should help eliminate a lot confusion over symptoms in the coming weeks. Given that the elderly population is at the highest risk, we are focused on our Neighborhood PACE Program and are taking every step possible to continue giving high quality care both at our PACE Centers and in their homes without compromising their risks further. Throughout this crisis, we must still care for all of the health issues our community faces and it is important that people don’t avoid necessary care because of this crisis. We are grateful for our skilled and determined staff for the work they are doing every day.”
EBNHC Vice President of Human Resources Steven Snyder added, “The safety of our staff is always a priority for us. Balancing the need to care for the community during this crisis with the concerns of our own staff is no easy task, but we are fortunate to have an incredibly committed team here at the Health Center who always rises to the occasion. We will continue to take every step we can to see that our staff is utilizing best practices in infection control in the care of our patients, in their normal work day and in their personal lives.”
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. BPHC recommends standard precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, like those that cause the flu or a cold:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
• If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
• 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 using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• Avoid spitting in public.
• Get a flu shot.