Dear MaineHealth patient,
As the world-wide coronavirus outbreak continues to dominate our news each day, we know this may be a source of growing concern for you and your family.
MaineHealth and its family of health care providers across Maine and Carroll County, N.H., stand ready as a resource for the communities we serve. We want to assure you that keeping our patients, families and staff safe and well is our top priority during this time.
To that end, we want to share with you, in question and answer format, some important information about COVID-19 and how we can all work together to minimize its impact in our communities.
What can I do to keep myself, my family and the larger community safe and well during a potential COVID-19 outbreak?
As of 3/11/20, there have been no reported positive cases of COVID-19 in Maine and just a handful in western New Hampshire. Infectious disease experts have yet to see evidence the virus is spreading through our communities, and therefore the current risk of getting COVID-19 here is regarded as low.
Obviously, this can change as it has in other communities across the country. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of contracting the virus and limit its spread. Here is what the CDC recommends:
What if I have symptoms or think I may have been exposed to COVID-19?
It is understandable that any kind of cold or flu-like symptoms might provoke anxiety when an outbreak of this type dominates our daily news. Be aware, first and foremost, that the vast majority of people infected with the virus experience it as they would a common cold or the flu and make a full recovery. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are cough,fever, or shortness of breath. Most individuals with symptoms need do nothing more than stay home and care for themselves until they are well. If, however, you experience more severe symptoms or are otherwise concerned about your symptoms or have reason to believe you were exposed to someone known to have COVID-19, call your primary care provider before presenting at a clinic, doctor’s office or emergency department. This is the best way to determine the right course of treatment for you and limit the spread of infection.
Should I be tested?
As of 3/11/20, we have not seen community transmission of COVID-19 in Maine or Carroll County, N.H. Patients who should be considered for testing include those individuals who have symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) and have returned within 14 days from an area with a known COVID-19 outbreak or have been in close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19. If you feel you should be tested for COVID-19, please call your primary care provider first so you can get the care you need and we can limit the spread of possible infection. Guidance for who should be considered for testing is likely to change.
Should I change my travel plans or avoid large gatherings?
Older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. If you are in this high-risk group, the federal Centers for Disease Control is now recommending that you reconsider travel and avoid crowds. Please see the CDC’s website for more information on what you can do to prepare. If you are not in a high-risk category, there are also some recommendations and warnings about traveling to places in the world with ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19. Please see CDC’s website for details.
What is MaineHealth doing to prepare in the event of an outbreak here?
Across MaineHealth each local hospital organization has a process to deal with a range of emergent health challenges, including an infectious outbreak or pandemic. Training and preparations for this exact situation have been in place for many years.
Though the vast majority of COVID-19 cases produce mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, a small number of patients – many of them elderly with underlying medical conditions – have become severely ill or have died. Across our system, we are well prepared to care for these patients with expertise in infectious disease and respiratory illness. Importantly, our staff is trained to provide this specialized care and has the supplies they need to do so safely with minimal risk to themselves and the community.
At this time, if you or a family member has reason to come to one of our facilities for an appointment, elective surgery or other procedure, we want to assure you we are taking all necessary steps to keep our patients safe. We are screening patients for symptoms, keeping surfaces clean and practicing and promoting good hand hygiene at all our hospitals, clinics and offices.
What if I have more questions?
As noted above, if you have flu-like symptoms and experience shortness of breath or are otherwise concerned about your symptoms or have reason to believe you were exposed to someone known to have COVID-19, call your health care provider. To keep up with the latest information, consult trusted sources such as the Maine, New Hampshire or federal CDC. You can also get updates on our website here.
Yours in health,
Joan Boomsma, MD
Chief Medical Officer
MaineHealth | 110 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101