Current interventions in the United States
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is leading a multiagency effort to combat the COVID-19 potential pandemic. A Feb. 24 report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report revealed that 1,336 CDC staff members have been involved in the COVID-19 response.10 CDC staff members have been deployed to 39 locations in the United States and internationally. CDC staff members are working with state and local health departments and other public health authorities to assist with case identification, contact tracing, evaluation of persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19, and medical management of cases, as well as with research and academic institutions to understand the virulence, risk for transmission, and other characteristics of this novel virus. The CDC is also working with other agencies of the U.S. government including the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of State to safely evacuate U.S. citizens, residents, and their families from international locations with high incidence and transmission of COVID-19.
Specific real-time updated guidance has been developed and posted online for health care settings for patient management, infection control and prevention, laboratory testing, environmental cleaning, worker safety, and international travel. The CDC has developed communications materials in English and Spanish for communities and guidance for health care settings, public health, laboratories, schools, and businesses to prepare for a potential pandemic. Travel advisories to countries affected by the epidemic are regularly updated to inform travelers and clinicians about current health issues that need to be considered before travel.11 A level 3 travel notice (avoid all nonessential travel) for China has been in effect since Jan. 27, and on Feb. 29 this was upgraded to a level 4 travel notice.12 Airport screening has been implemented in the 11 U.S. international airports to which flights from China have been diverted, and a total of 46,016 air travelers had been screened by Feb. 23. Incoming passengers are screened for fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Currently, the CDC has a comprehensive algorithm for further investigation of a PUI – fever, cough, shortness of breath, and a history of travel to areas with increased coronavirus circulation within 14 days of onset of symptoms, OR a close household contact of a confirmed case. When there is a PUI, the current protocol indicates health care providers should alert a local or state health department official. After the health department completes a case investigation, the CDC will help transport specimens (upper respiratory and lower respiratory specimens, and sometimes stool or urine) as soon as possible to the centralized lab for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.13 CDC laboratories are currently using real-time reverse transcription–PCR (RT-PCR). The CDC is also developing a serologic test to assist with surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 circulation in the U.S. population. There is also a safe repository of viral isolates set up to help with sharing of isolates with academic institutions for research purposes.14
At hospitals and outpatient offices in the United States, we are preparing for potential cases by reminding frontline health care workers to routinely ask about travel history in addition to relevant symptoms. By eliciting the history early, they should be able to identify and isolate PUIs, appropriately minimizing exposure. Some facilities are displaying signage in waiting rooms to alert patients to provide relevant history, helping to improve triage. COVID-19 symptoms are like those of influenza (e.g., fever, cough, and shortness of breath), and the current outbreak is occurring during a time of year when respiratory illnesses from influenza and other viruses are highly prevalent. To prevent influenza and possible unnecessary evaluation for COVID-19, all persons aged 6 months and older are strongly encouraged to receive an annual influenza vaccine.
To decrease the risk for respiratory disease, persons can practice recommended preventive measures. Persons ill with symptoms of COVID-19 who have had contact with a person with COVID-19, or recent travel to countries with apparent community spread, should proactively communicate with their health care provider before showing up at the health care facility to help make arrangements to prevent possible transmission in the health care setting. In a medical emergency, they should inform emergency medical personnel about possible COVID-19 exposure. If found positive, the current recommendation is to place patients on airborne isolation. N95 masks are being recommended for health care professionals. Hospitals are reinforcing effective infection control procedures, updating pandemic preparedness protocols, and ensuring adequate supplies in the case of an enormous influx of patients.15