Mercy Regional Medical Center says it has began screening patients for the coronavirus virus as a precaution as the deadly disease makes its way from China to the United States.
For the past week, patients showing signs of fever and respiratory symptoms who have traveled to China within 14 days have been screened for the virus, said Keri McCune, infection prevention program manager. The symptoms patients can experience include a running nose, coughing, headache, sore throat and fever.
The emergency department is also screening anyone who had contact with a known or suspected case of the new coronavirus, McCune said.
“While we are considered low risk, we always want to be prepared for the unexpected,” she wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency on Thursday because of its rapid spread. The disease has sickened more than 7,800 people and killed 170, mostly in China, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the U.S., five people have contracted the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
San Juan Basin Public Health Regional epidemiologist Samie Stephens said even though the state and federal health departments consider the coronavirus risk low in the U.S., it is important for Southwest Colorado to be prepared because the region sees significant tourism and residents often travel out of the country, she said.
To help the region prepare, Stephens said she is tracking the latest information about the illness, which has no specific treatment recommendations.
“We are currently monitoring the situation and providing guidance to our medical partners in the area who would be giving care,” she said.
At Mercy, staff in leadership positions will hold an exercise in early February to identify gaps or areas of improvement that need to be addressed so the hospital can be prepared, McCune said.
Mercy is also advising patients with respiratory symptoms who have traveled to China within the last 14 days or patients who have been exposed to suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus to go to Mercy’s emergency room for an evaluation, McCune said.
Patients with the symptoms should wear masks before entering the building until they can be tested, she said.