ORLANDO – While the impact of the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak on hospitals outside of China remains to be determined, there are several practical points critical care professionals need to know to be prepared in the face of this dynamic and rapidly evolving outbreak, speakers said at the Critical Care Congress sponsored by the Society of Critical Care Medicine.
“Priorities for us in our hospitals are early detection, infection prevention, staff safety, and obviously, taking care of sick people,” said Ryan C. Maves, MD, of the Naval Medical Center San Diego in a special session on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak.*
Approximately 72,000 cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had been reported as of Feb. 17, 2020, the day of Dr. Maves’ talk, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins Center for Science and Engineering in Baltimore. A total of 1,775 deaths had been recorded, nearly all of which were in Hubei Province, the central point of the outbreak. In the United States, the number of cases stood at 15, with no deaths reported.
While the dynamics of the 2019 novel coronavirus are still being learned, the estimated range of spread for droplet transmission is 2 meters, according to Dr. Maves. The duration of environmental persistence is not yet known, but he said that other coronaviruses persist in low-humidity conditions for up to 4 days.
The number of secondary cases that arise from a primary infection, or R0, is estimated to be between 1.5 and 3, though it can change as exposure evolves; by comparison, the R0 for H1N1 influenza has been reported as 1.5, while measles is 12-18, indicating that it is “very contagious,” said Dr. Maves. Severe acute respiratory syndrome had an initial R0 of about 3.5, which he said declined rapidly to 0.7 as environmental and policy controls were put into place.
Critical care professionals need to know how to identify patients at risk of having COVID-19 and determine whether they need further work-up, according to Dr. Maves, who highlighted recent criteria released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The highest-risk category, he said, are individuals exposed to a laboratory-confirmed coronavirus case, which along with fever or signs and symptoms of a lower respiratory illness would be sufficient to classify them as a “person of interest” requiring further evaluation for disease. A history of travel from Hubei Province plus fever and signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness would also meet criteria for evaluation, according to the CDC, while travel to mainland China would also meet the threshold, if those symptoms required hospitalization.
The CDC also published a step-wise flowchart to evaluate patients who may have been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus. According to that flowchart, if an individual has traveled to China or had close contact with someone infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus within 14 days of symptoms, and that individual has fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness such as cough or shortness of breath, then providers should isolate that individual and assess clinical status, in addition to contacting the local health department.
Laura E. Evans, MD, MS, FCCM, of New York University, said she might recommend providers “flip the script” on that CDC algorithm when it comes to identifying patients who may have been exposed.
“I think perhaps what we should be doing at sites of entry is not talking about travel as the first question, but rather fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illnesses as the first question, and use that as the opportunity to implement risk mitigation at that stage,” Dr. Evans said in a presentation on preparing for COVID-19.
Even with “substantial uncertainty” about the potential impact of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, a significant influx of seriously ill patients would put strain the U.S. health care delivery system, she added.
“None of us have tons of extra capacity in our emergency departments, inpatient units, or ICUs, and I think we need to be prepared for that,” she added. “We need to know what our process is for ‘identify, isolate, and inform,’ and we need to be testing that now.”
Dr. Maves and Dr. Evans both reported that they had no financial conflicts of interest to report. Dr. Maves indicated that the views expressed in his presentation did not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the United States government.
*Correction, 2/19/20: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the naval center.