CORONAVIRUS UPDATE 3/16/2020
We at Family Healthcare of Fairfax want you, our patients, to be fully informed about the coronavirus epidemic and confident that we will help you weather any illness, deliver calm for your fears, and provide clarity during this uncertain time. Our providers and staff are caring professionals who are dedicated to your health and well-being. We welcome your questions and we are here to serve you.
The purpose of this letter is to provide information and guidance. Much has been reported in the media and most of you are aware of the basics. The novel (new) coronavirus causes the illness called Covid-19. It is a highly contagious virus that has entered our country with travelers from other countries and has begun to spread in communities. While people of any age can be infected, we are concerned most about patients who are elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. We urge everyone to protect themselves by limiting exposure to large groups of people, limiting travel to essential trips, by washing hands frequently with soap and warm water and by staying home if you have an illness.
If you suspect that you have had exposure to a Covid-19 infected individual, call our office for advice about testing and care. We will ask for specifics so be prepared to share that information (Person in same building vs. the guy at the next desk). Please do not walk into our office without calling ahead. The same applies to those patients who have had recent travel to countries with numerous Covid-19 infections or who have had close contact with someone recently returning from an infected area.
If you have an illness, especially if the symptoms include fever, cough or shortness of breath, call our office for advice. We will ask a series of questions over the phone and advise you about the care you need and the best location to receive that care.
Most illnesses at this time of year are viral or bacterial illnesses that are common and treatable, not Covid-19. When you call for an appointment, our staff will ask more questions than usual about your illness before scheduling an appointment. This will be done to identify possible Covid-19 cases but also may help us advise you about your illness rather than to bring you into the office for care.
At this time in Northern Virginia, the number of Covid-19 infections is low but growing as we identify more cases through testing. While we now have the ability to test through our office, we have a limited supply of tests and plan to test those with elevated risk of infection. As the supply of tests increases, we may begin to test patients more broadly. Our providers will make testing decisions based on risk factors and the guidance of the Virginia Department of Health and CDC.
Now, regarding what we should expect from the Covid-19 epidemic. First, we all need to remain calm and have faith that the infection will subside in the US over the next few months. No infectious disease expert can say exactly when that will happen, but there is ample evidence from China and South Korea that containment measures help slow the spread of disease and allow the number of infections to decline after 1-2 months. Based on infection rates around the world (160k cases total), I do not expect tens of millions of cases and a million deaths in America as some experts have projected based on their models for a worst-case scenario. This doesn’t seem plausible if China, the epicenter of the outbreak, experienced a total of 80K cases. Serious illness occurs in 20% of patients but approximately 97% of all infected patients will recover. The expected mortality rate in the US will probably be lower than the 3.4% calculated by the World Health Organization. Dr Fauci of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases suggested it could be as low as 1% in America and I believe this will be true. There is also a reasonable chance that warmer weather will make the virus less contagious and speed the resolution of the epidemic.
Cathy Tong and I are focused on taking care of you. Our office is taking this matter seriously and we recommend that you do as well. Mistakes were made by the CDC – in declining WHO testing kits, defective initial test kits — and thankfully, they are being corrected quickly. America always responds in an awesome and compassionate way to crises and we will respond to Covid-19 in the same manner. Our office will work tirelessly to obtain the tools and guidance we need to take care of our patients. That is our focus at Family Healthcare and we will continue to provide you with timely advice, information, and care.
Eugene Shmorhun, MD