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.
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.
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.