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Coronavirus: How Medical Professionals Determine if You Need Testing, Treatment

March 06, 2020

While the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low, now is the time to prepare, not panic.

It’s not unlike when the National Weather Service issues a blizzard or hurricane watch. It’s not a bad idea to stock up on food, medical and cleaning supplies in case you or a loved one gets sick.

You also want to follow the latest travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Take the same precautions you would during the flu season. The best way to prevent the spread of this new virus is to cover your cough, stay home when you’re sick and avoid being within six feet of others who might be sick.

But what if you’re suddenly not feeling well?

“This is an evolving situation with coronavirus and it needs to be monitored very carefully,” said Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer. “Hartford HealthCare has always been very prepared for these kinds of  situations. We’re here to support the community.”

Hartford HealthCare has been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) to ensure the safety of patients, visitors and staff. All patients are asked about recent travel from affected countries. Hospital staff are also prepared to practice infection-control protocols if they encounter a patient who may have been exposed to this new virus.

Here’s what Hartford HealthCare clinicians will look for when evaluating your condition to determine if you should be tested for coronavirus, using general guidelines from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention:

Do you have a fever or symptoms of a lower-respiratory illness like a cough or shortness of breath? For now, medical professionals will only request a coronavirus test if you also have had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed coronavirus patient within 14 days of that patient’s first symptoms or you have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea or other areas of the world with widespread ongoing transmission of the virus.

If you have both clinical symptoms and the additional risk of coronavirus exposure:

You will be isolated, possibly in a negative-pressure room, for further examination. Hospital staff will take airborne and contact precautions, with gown, gloves and an N95 respirator with face shield. You, and anyone accompanying you, will be given a surgical mask.

Do you have a severe acute lower respiratory illness like pneumonia requiring hospitalization without an identifiable cause like the seasonal flu and no known exposure to a coronavirus patient? You will be tested for coronavirus.

How You’re Tested for Coronavirus

Your healthcare provider will retrieve two specimens, using thin nasopharyngeal swabs, through the nose. One will be tested for influenza (seasonal flu) and respiratory virus, the other for coronavirus. A second specimen for coronavirus testing will be retrieved from the throat using a thick swab. A sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus) other sample also might be taken.

The samples are then sent for testing. The state public health lab in Rocky Hill could complete up to about 20 tests a day since being approved as a testing site Feb. 28 by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. Starting March 9, two private laboratories — Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp — will begin processing as many as several hundred coronavirus tests a day in the state.

Where Coronavirus Patients Receive Care

The severity of your illness and any requirement for speciality care — if, for example, you’re pregnant — will determine where you receive care.

If you’re not critically ill but require medical care: You will remain in an Emergency Department negative-pressure room until test results are available, typically within 24 hours. If the test is positive, you’ll be moved from the Emergency Department to a negative-pressure room on a non-intensive care floor.

If you’re not critically ill and do not require medical care: A consultation with the state Department of Public Health will determine if your care can include home quarantine.

If you’re critically ill: You will receive care in a negative-pressure room in an intensive-care unit.

If you’re more than 22 weeks pregnant, you will be placed in a negative-pressure room on the hospital’s Labor and Delivery floor. If your baby is born during your stay, you will be separated until your symptoms have resolved.

Fortunately, the odds of getting coronavirus are extremely low. In China, where the virus originated late last year, about 80,000 cases have been reported in a country with 1.4 billion people.

How to Avoid Coronavirus

To avoid coronavirus, here are some recommendations from the CDC:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • When using a hand sanitizer, make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Don’t shake hands. It’s not about being rude, it’s just being careful.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Take good care of yourself. For example, quite smoking. The healthier you are, the better your chances of “weathering the storm.”
  • Don’t wear face masks unless you are sick. They need to be conserved in case of emergency.
  • Consider what you would do if schools or daycares close.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

Whatever happens, Hartford HealthCare will be prepared.

“We know how to do this – we have done this for all the other diseases that have emerged,” said Dr. Kenneth Robinson, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Hartford Hospital.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.