Preparing for coronavirus

Take some of the same steps you would to avoid the flu, say experts.


Updated March 4

With many families returning to the Island after February school vacation, and two confirmed cases of the illness reported in nearby Rhode Island, officials at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital are advising people to to use common-sense practices to prevent the spread of illness, especially the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Escel Stanghellini, director of quality and patient safety, and Claire Seguin, chief clinical and quality officer, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital offered some tips and practices for staying healthy and preventing the potential spread of disease.

How do you protect yourself from COVID-19? Well, much the same way you would protect yourself from the flu or any other illness, but unlike the flu, there is no vaccine at this point. The COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province in central China. 

Stanghellini said the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China and South Korea, which are an alert level 3.

Alert level 2 destinations include Iran, Italy, and Japan, which the CDC says are countries experiencing “sustained community transmission” of respiratory illness caused by COVID-19. 

As of Friday, Feb. 28, the World Health Organization has reported 83,694 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 53 countries. The vast majority of cases and deaths are from China. There have been 2,861 confirmed deaths.

Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are advised to avoid all nonessential travel. 

Hong Kong is the only country currently on watch level 1. The CDC recommends people practice usual precautions.

Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan are other destinations with risk of community spread.


Wash your hands

Proper and constant hand washing is key, according to Seguin. Washing hands before, during, and after preparing food, before eating, after using the restroom, and after touching an animal. CDC guidelines for washing hands properly is to wet your hands and lather with soap by scrubbing palms, back of hands, between fingers, and under nails. Scrub hands for about 15 to 20 seconds, or about the length of humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Rinse your hands well under water, then use a clean towel or air to dry. When you can’t use soap and water, use hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol. “Using basic practice, constantly washing your hands and knowing the best thing to do is protect yourself,” Seguin said.


Managing germs

In addition to washing your hands, Seguin recommends using common-sense practices for managing germs. Do not cough or sneeze into your hands, but instead use the inside of your elbow. COVID-19 symptoms develop within two to 14 days, and can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. “That is what is making this such a challenging virus to track nationally,” Seguin said, adding that the focus is on those who have traveled recently and are showing symptoms.


The facemasks

Seguin said there has been a public outcry for masks, and that nationally, the country is approaching a mask shortage. But masks should be reserved for those who actually need them. Many of the surgical masks are too loose to prevent inhalation of COVID-19.

“[The masks] are not necessary if you’re healthy, and they should really be reserved for sick patients and healthcare providers,” Seguin said, noting that the N95 respirators should also be reserved for the appropriate people, especially because the masks have to be fitted to each specific person. If infected, masks can help prevent the spread of a virus.

The demand for masks has made its way to the Island, but pharmacies have had difficulty keeping them in stock. Tamara Hersh, the owner of Conroy’s Apothecary in West Tisbury, told The Times by phone that requests have been nonstop. “People have been in all day for masks and hand sanitizers. We have hand sanitizers, but no face masks; my distributor is out,” Hersh said.

Similarly, at Leslie’s in Vineyard Haven, assistant pharmacy manager David Holmberg said the store hasn’t had any luck getting masks. “We order from four different places, and they haven’t been in stock,” Holmberg said, adding that he couldn’t even order masks on Amazon.


If showing symptoms, contact your doctor and local authorities

The best thing to do if showing symptoms is to contact your doctor, according to the CDC. 

“Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19,” the CDC states. “Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.”

Below is a list of Island health agents for each town:

Tisbury: Maura Valley, 508-696-4291

Oak Bluffs: Meegan Lancaster, 508-693-3554, ext. 127

Chilmark: Marina Lent, 508-645-2105

West Tisbury: Omar Johnson, 508-696-0105

Aquinnah: Karen Colombo, assistant, 508-645-2309

Edgartown: Matt Poole, 508-627-6120


Updated to include Aquinnah health contact. — Ed.


  1. 36000 to 48000 deaths from flu in the US last year. 300000 world wide at least. Not one death from corona virus in the US.. This not Ebola. By all means take care but lets not panic.

  2. With Mike Pray-Away-The-Gay Pence in charge, and Trump hoping for a miracle, what, me worry? Seriously scary times.

  3. More media hype. Lets not forget sars, bird flu, ebolo, and I’m still waiting for the electricity to go out and the world to come to a grinding screeching halt due to ‘Y2K’. The non-partisan CDC say 60 cases of coronavirus here out of 327 million residents. 14 million cases of the flue so far. 18,000 have died in the US THIS YEAR from the flu. Take precautions, so you don’t get the flu or anything else. When you see the slob in front of you sneeze and check out on the credit card machine, use a purell towl. Do the same at the ATM. Common sense hygene. Nothing here folks… except the fake news and Democrats hoping to hype the stock market into a meltdown so they can try to beat Trump at the polls. It wont happen. If you like stocks 2 weeks ago…they are ‘on sale’ now. Markets fluctuate. Its a buying opportunity.

    • not new–yes, the numbers are low– but growing. do you know what the word ‘exponential’ means ?
      the number of deaths from the diseases you mention were limited by a swift and co ordinated global response. trump’s gag order might not be as effective.
      Your comment about democrats and the media manipulating the stock market in some sort of conspiracy to bring down trump is absolute insanity.

    • The past week I have read and watched doctors explain that this is potentially a big deal. Yes, no nearly as many deaths have occured from coronavirus – yet. However, it is the infection rate, and the mortality rate which concerns the world’s doctors. The chance of dying from the flu is quite small, however, since so many get the flu, there are many deaths. Coron is different in that it is new, and the mortality rate is believed to be twenty times higher than the flu – that is what has the world on edge. Given time and chance to grow, if corona grew to how common the flu is, then we would see many many more deaths across the world than the flu.

  4. andrew, yes, flu is deadly–at his news conference trump acknowledged he was shocked by that– who knew people actually died from the flu?– not trump, for one .
    the death rate from covid 19 is 20 times higher than the flu
    I know you don’t like ‘per capita”stats , but I think you have the intellectual ability to understand some basic statistics — for instance, 848 people rode the space shuttle into orbit (or near orbit) 14 of them died — that’s about a 1.6 % fatality rate. That’s lower than the fatality rate if you become infected with covid 19.

  5. Most people with flu-like symptoms continue going to work and having contact with you— by busing your restaurant table, cleaning your house or hotel room, and handing you your fast food— because they don’t have paid sick days. I wonder if Trumpers think the seriousness of this virus is media hype across 5 continents— or if WHO is a biased democrat fake news organization. Denial and thoughts and prayers are all the blind have left. We’ll see what happens in the next month.

  6. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative says that we the USA ranks #1 of 195 countries in the world for preparedness of pandemics.
    In war games type virus scenarios and using the corona virus as a example the GHS Index finds that no country is fully prepared for naturally occurring, intentional, or accidental infectious disease outbreaks, but when they used the corona virus and others as a example we aced it!
    So there all you Trump Haters & Fake News!

    • If you are referring to the John Hopkins report tauted by trump, no country aced it. The US came in first, and “scored 83.5 and ranked No. 1 in five of six categories: prevention, early detection and reporting, rapid response and mitigation, sufficient and robust health system, and compliance with international norms. ” We got a solid, low, “B.” However, that same report continues to say that the US ranked, “19th in overall risk environment and vulnerability to biological threats, a category that assesses political and security risk, socioeconomic resilience, the adequacy of infrastructure, environmental risks, and public health vulnerabilities that may inhibit a country’s ability to prevent or respond to an epidemic or pandemic.” Nineteenth. “No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address.” (ibid)

    • I don’t wish sickness or death on anyone, so I hope Trump supporters take the recommended precautions and prepare themselves and their families for the seriousness of this illness. An educated guess is that the woman at UC Davis who has the virus with no known exposure, likely was community-exposed by the White House-sent officials who greeted the cruise ship coronavirus evacuees without proper protective gear and then went back out into the community… near UC Davis. So much for trusting the administration. There have not been enough tests administered, either, another signal of the administration’s ineptitude in dealing with this illness. Medical officials are concerned that some people in hospitals with pneumonia may have coronavirus, but have not been tested for it because they did not meet the criteria of travel/exposure to one of the hot spots or to someone who has returned from a hot spot. There are also, obviously, people walking around with the virus who do not know they have it. A woman in her 50’s on the west coast has died of the disease, the first death in this country. This is not fake news and has nothing to do with hating Trump, although he has proven himself utterly inept by calling it a democratic hoax, which he now has backtracked on. The idea that testing hasn’t been done more extensively is mind-boggling. We lost precious time.

  7. The USA is #1 as stated in Tisbury Native’s Comment. Being prepared is not panic. Nowhere have I seen panic but I have seen pragmatic prep. Also, as someone who has had many tragic losses of family members in the past few years, I am disgusted by politicizing this virus. There is not one good reason for that. It makes my heart break to see anyone belittling loss and grief. We are all in this together.

  8. Dr. Fauci is a leading infectious disease expert in the world. We have a number of them in this country. I have known some of them personally. Dr. Fauci helped the Chinese set up their CDC and then they were not forthcoming with information about this virus. I have lived around the world and I have seen health care and readiness first hand. We prevail, believe me, if you have seen other countries first hand. In fact, after the age of 80, Americans live longer than in any other country due to our health care, primarily, not so in the single payer countries so often touted as having the best health care systems. There is nothing like experience.

  9. Why don’t we use facts as put out by the CDC that is the mortality rate of Covid-19 is 2% or greater. Now lets see what that means if we use the 2% mortality rate for every 100 infected 2 dead, for every 1,000 infected 20 dead, for every 10,000 infected 200 dead, for every 100,000 infected 2000 dead, for every 1,000,000 infected 20,000 dead, you are starting to get the picture? The flu in comparison has a mortality rate of 0.1&, big difference boys and girls get ready for a wild ride, times are a changing.

    • The 2% death rate figure does not take into account all the undiagnosed cases. Hopefully the mortality rate is much lower. Experts are predicting a big surge in US cases in the coming days because of more testing. Young children and the elderly and those with conditions like asthma are most at risk. The CDC info is now filtered through Pray-Away-The-Gay Pence, plus they did not recognize that more testing should have been done at the onset, so there’s that to scare us, too.

  10. To All: I see there are some still taking political potshots in a time of serious illness. Not nice. Not accurate. The CDC is a government bureau and has been in existence for decades with protocols it follows. To get a huge government agency to move quickly is almost impossible. To me, the political potshots are a sign of the paucity of spirit of the potshotter… nicely, children.

    • What’s not nice is when the country looks to a leader who is doing exactly what you object to, and Faux News is creating conspiracy theories and lies about democrats. Junior went so far as to claim Dems hope the disease kills many so that Trump can be blamed. I agree that the weaponizing of this illness by trump, by junior, by hannity, by Limbaugh has been nothing short of disgusting. Look to the source if your complaints. Plus, filtering virus news thru Pence, who already was caught in a lie about testing/screening, is not helpful to the public.

  11. Referring to COVID-19 as fake news reinforces the idea that there’s nothing to worry about, which will translate to some ignoring the necessary precautions and undermining everyone else’s efforts. Please rethink taking that stance.

    Out of the known COVID-19 fatalities, many had pre-existing medical conditions. Thus far, those fatality rates look like:

    • 10.5% – cardiovascular disease
    • 7.3% – diabetes
    • 6.3% – chronic respiratory disease
    • 6.0% – hypertension
    • 5.6% – cancer

    Age is also a significant factor. Those over 60 are considered higher risk, and 8% of infected Chinese patients in their 70s died. For patients age 80 and older, it goes up to nearly 15%. I don’t like using stats in this case because it’s not over yet. The numbers are in flux. Still, these percentages should be alarming to us all. We can act on that knowledge and feel confident that we’re doing the right thing. Even if you aren’t personally worried about getting sick because you assume it will be mild, please do all you can to take this seriously and protect others who are vulnerable. One person dying from something potentially preventable is one too many. Thanks.

    • Aquinnah, sensible commentary, thank you. I believe many are commenting who do not have full information; the elder statistic is worrisome; I agree that not being serious about this will lead some to not follow best practices. I have been immuno compromised in my life and I follow best practices daily. I notice others do not so I self quarantine, I simply just do not go certain places. i had a doctors appointment the other day and the car service parkers were run off their feet; no best practices there. I keep a container of wipes in my car and I wiped down the interior of my car before I even touched anything. I touch elevator buttons with my knuckles, I open doors with sleeves wrapped around my hands and upon returning home from outside, first thing I do is wash my hands with soap, water, a soft nail brush while I sing the ABC song twice. Call me crazy, but it makes me feel good, not just about myself, but about others, we are all in this together.

      • Thanks, augustawynd. Sorry, I didn’t catch your reply until now. You’re right, this is one problem we should all be able to come together on. I cringe when thinking about how many people don’t wash their hands but am happy to see that changing.

  12. Yes, indeed, we all have experience with those who will not play nicely in the sandbox. It was ever thus. I am so fortunate that I have learned experts amongst my friends in these perilous times. Stay well, all, peace be with you.

Comments are closed.