Long Island Hospitals: We’re Prepared For Coronavirus Outbreak


Local health institutions have protocols already in place and infectious disease doctors say there is no need to panic.

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Keep calm and wash your hands. That’s the basic message that healthcare officials on Long Island have for anyone worried about the coronavirus. Hospitals already have protocols in place to deal with outbreaks of this kind and are urging people to remain calm.


Hospitals are prepared for the worst


“The good news is that after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 the hospital is prepared for epidemics,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.


In a phone interview Dr. Nachman, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, stressed that her hospital does not need to reinvent the wheel for coronavirus preparedness.


“We don’t have to look far for this plan,” she said. “”The hospital is very well situated to handle an outbreak.”


They understand how to isolate and triage patients, and have plenty of the needed medical supplies like masks.


“The hospital is incredibly well positioned to deal with an epidemic on Long Island,” she said. “And I don't see the hospital running out of equipment.”


Catholic Health Services (CHS) Chief of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Christopher Raio, said in a statement that his network of hospitals is also well-prepared.


“Catholic Health Services is committed to the safety and well-being of our community,” said Dr. Raio in an emailed statement.


CHS has six hospitals on Long Island in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties.


Northwell Health, with a network of 13  hospitals on Long Island, issued a statement about coronavirus from Dr. Mark Jarrett, Chief Quality Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer.


“Northwell’s clinical protocols are designed to quickly identify potential infectious patients as they enter our facilities, isolate them appropriately, prevent transmission of infections and protect front-line caregivers from potential exposure,” said Dr. Jarrett in the statement.


While the news is dire and cases are being identified rapidly around the world, so far, there haven’t been any confirmed cases in New York State, according to Dr. Jarrett.


Recently it was reported that 83 people in Nassau County were isolated and being monitored for potential coronavirus infections.


Nassau Executive Laura Curran issued a statement yesterday saying that there have been no reported cases in the county.


“Nassau County has received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the one Nassau County resident who was being tested for the Coronavirus has tested negative,” Curran said in the statement.


She said that Nassau County tested six people for the virus and all of them have tested negative.


“Nassau County continues to be in close procedural coordination with State and Federal partners in order to ensure the health and safety of all residents,” Curran added.


Stony Brook Hospital’s Dr. Nachman also said that there haven’t been any confirmed cases in Suffolk County.


While no news is good news when it comes to verified cases, hospitals and officials remain vigilant.


“If the worse-case scenario develops and the New York area does experience a large number of coronavirus cases, Northwell and its hospitals have plans in place to handle a surge in patient,” said Dr. Jarrett.


Dr. Nachman also said that hospitals will continue to have a measured response.


“We’re not going to have a knee-jerk response,” she said. “People are concerned that we have not faced this before. Unfortunately, we have.”


During the H1N1 outbreak health institutions were told to be prepared and they have plans in place.


“No one is starting from scratch,” she said. “We hope not to have to go from yellow to red but we are prepared if we need to.”


What is coronavirus?


With the influx of news, most officials say that the CDC is the most reliable source on cornonavirus, and the agency continues to update its website as new information becomes available.


Coronavirus is actually nothing new - although we might not have heard of it before except under a different name. 


“This coronavirus is similar to two other outbreaks of coronavirus that we’ve had in the past decade,” Dr. Nachman explained in a podcast. “The first one was SARS… and then MERS.”


The World Health Organization describes coronaviruses as a “large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.”


Dr. Nachman said because we’ve seen it in different forms before we have the tools to identify it and hopefully prevent it from traveling further.


This strain of coronavirus is identified as Covid-19. And much like the flu that mutates every year this is a more aggressive variant of the disease. Essentially we all get exposed to coronavirus, according to doctors interviewed but not this exact strain.


To many infectious disease doctors, right now the flu is of greater concern.


People are more likely to get the flu, which has affected more than 26 million Americans this season – and killed more than 14,000. According to the CDC, flu activity is high in the U.S. and 174.1 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed to date.


“By all means, flu is a greater concern, said Dr. Philip Nizza, Chief of Infectious Disease at  Northwell-owned Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson “Ultimately it will cause more deaths.”


He said that the awareness of the dangers of influenza is “underappreciated” for a disease that occurs every year.


“You’re more likely to get influenza than coronavirus,” Dr. Nizza said.


Dr. Nachman agreed.


“Politely, the flu wins hands down,” she said.


Officials encourage caution but also calm


“We encourage people to remain calm while also taking practical steps such as routine hand washing to protect themselves and their families from not only the coronavirus but the flu,” said Northwell’s Dr. Jarrett.


The virus, while highly infectious, is not causing more damage than influenza yet.


“Don't panic,” advised Stony Brook Hospital’s Dr. Nachman. “Panicking sets you off into a cascade of doing things incorrectly.”


She said to have a plan in place if you get sick. Prepare for who will take care of your children or others who depend on you like elderly parents. Which is no different than if you were home sick with the flu.


“If you went into isolation what is your plan?” she asked.


And just like every cold-and-flu season, doctors said to use common sense and practice good hygiene to keep healthy.


“Like your mother always told you, wash your hands,” said Mather Hospital’s Dr. Nizza.


CDC guidelines also emphasize washing hands with soap and water along with using hand sanitizer, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing and avoiding contact with others when sick.


Bottom line is to remain calm.


“The last thing we want to see is empty shelves in grocery stores,” said Dr. Nachman.