November 26, 2021

Think you have it? What do you do?

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Cortland County health officials tell you not to go to hospitals if you suspect you have coronavirus, but to call your primary care provider, instead. But some doctors have told patients not to come to their offices.

What do you do?

First, said Catherine Feuerherm, director of the Cortland County Health Department, call your primary care provider, who will screen for potential coronavirus cases, asking whether you:

  • Have come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or recently traveled to a country with widespread and ongoing transmission: China, Iran, South Korea, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estoni, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.
  • Show symptoms of the coronavirus, such as runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and difficulty breathing.

“The plan is that people will contact their own doctors so that the doctors can screen for the probability of Covid,” Feuerherm said.

Take precautions

The Tompkins County Health Department recommends:

  • Get the flu vaccination; it eliminates a possible cause of your symptoms.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with ill people.
  • Stay home if you are ill.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces.

However, some patients report that their doctors’ offices have told them not to come.

John Turner, vice president of public relations for Cayuga Medical Center, said that advice was incorrect. Doctors’ offices are asking patients to call first so they can be screened to determine whether they should come in to the office.

If you meet the criteria for coronavirus risk, you’ll be tested, Feuerherm said.

“When testing becomes much more available, we will be testing just about anyone with symptoms,” said Dr. David Evelyn, vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer for Cayuga Medical Center, which operates a hospital in Ithaca and several clinics, including Cortland Convenient Care on Route 281 in Cortland.

Eighty percent of those who contract coronavirus will experience only mild illness, but others will have more serious health risks, Feuerherm said.

“We must protect the highest risk individuals, the elderly or those with comprised immune systems,” she said. “We have to protect our family and friends. Even if you are not at risk for fatal outcomes, people are dying from this. There is no cure. There is no antivirus.”

“There are a group of patients that has this virus and they are very, very sick and they need to be in the hospital,” Evelyn said. “There is a larger group of people that has this and they do not really need to be in the hospital.”

Adding to the confusion are an unusually prevalent flu this year and another viral strain that has not yet been identified, Evelyn said. Both have symptoms similar to coronavirus.

Family Health Network and Regional Medical Practice, operated by Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, can test for coronavirus. Cayuga Medical Center sends samples to laboratories elsewhere, and Evelyn said results may take several days.

But the first step is calling your doctor’s office with any concerns about potential coronavirus infection to determine what steps you should take.

Isolation or quarantine?

Health officials have two courses of action when confronted by potential coronavirus contamination: self-isolate the sick and quarantine the well.

Self-isolation is physically separating from others by one’s own choice.

Anyone being tested for coronavirus is asked to self-isolate at home, said Dr. David Evelyn, vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer for Cayuga Medical Center.

“Anyone with flu-like symptoms should not share meals or utensils,” Evelyn said.

Quarantine is for someone who is not ill but has a potential exposure to someone who is ill. Quarantine lasts 14 days from the time the person was last in proximity to someone who tested positive or had returned from a country where coronavirus is a widespread, said Cortland County Health Director Catherine Feuerherm.

The county health department monitors quarantined people, as was the case recently when college students returned from Italy, Feuerherm said.

Evelyn said people under quarantine should physically separate themselves from the people they live with. The most severe cases are treated at hospitals.

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