CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is actively monitoring developments related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new virus that was recently identified as a global emergency by the World Health Organization.
The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States is currently extremely low. But as a health insurer serving 3.5 million members, BlueCross has a responsibility to prepare for the unlikely event of a community threat from 2019-nCoV.
“Our clinical teams are constantly monitoring news and guidance from the WHO, CDC, and state and local health departments,” said Dr. Andrea D. Willis, chief medical officer for BlueCross. “And we’re following our established protocols to be ready to meet the needs of our members and neighbors in Tennessee.”
What it is and how it spreads
2019-nCoV is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person, although it’s unclear how easily this happens.
Spread of similar coronaviruses, influenza and other viruses that cause respiratory illness happens mainly from respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. They can also spread when a person touches a surface or object that has virus on it and then touches his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
“We understand investigations on exactly how it spreads are ongoing, but person-to-person spread has been confirmed,” said Dr. Willis. “But we do believe that standard hygiene protocols – like washing hands, covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing — can help limit exposure.”
The CDC also believes the risk of becoming sick after coming in casual contact with someone who is infected is low. They expect more Americans will be infected by the virus, which is contagious before symptoms appear, usually in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure.
What people with symptoms or who have traveled to China should do first
“People should first call their primary care providers before going into the office if they’ve traveled recently or are experiencing symptoms,” said Dr. Willis. “Providers can then give instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to the illness.”
Anyone who has been in China within the past 14 days and feels ill with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should get medical care. Those who are sick should avoid contact with other people and any travel should be delayed to reduce the possibility of spreading illness.
What to do for treatment
There is currently no specific antiviral treatment or vaccine for 2019-nCoV, but people with 2019-nCov can seek medical care to help relieve and treat their symptoms.
People who are suspected of having Coronavirus should wear a face mask when in the same room with others. As with other viruses, the mouth and nose should be covered during coughing and sneezing and care should be taken to avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
“The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed,” explained Dr. Willis. “The CDC recommends washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid coming in contact with someone who is infected.”
Where to get more information
For more from BlueCross, check out this interview with medical director Dr. Suzanne Corrington.
Go directly to these organization’s websites for the most up-to-date information:
- Global: World Health Organization (WHO)
- National: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Tennessee: Department of Health