Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms? Call your doctor before going for a test

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, call your primary care physician before you do anything else. If your doctor isn’t available, then call either the urgent care or the emergency room at your local hospital.

The first step in identifying and treating COVID-19 is an evaluation over the phone, said Dr. Lydia Watson, senior vice president and chief medical officer at MidMichigan Health. Do not go to the hospital before making that call.

“Our most important goal is to prevent illness by preventing being exposed to the virus,” Watson said.

“We are still telling all of our patients and the community to monitor for symptoms. If they have fever, cough, shortness of breath, or concern of having been exposed to COVID-19 because of travel or because of exposure to someone who has the virus, the first thing they should do is call their primary care physician.”

The best defense against COVID-19 is social distancing and frequent, thorough handwashing. Protective masks and other equipment is most useful for health care professionals.Your physician will ask questions about your symptoms to recommend your best course of treatment. For some patients, that will mean a referral to a telehealth program. Patients can access COVID-19 screenings through a smartphone, tablet or computer with a webcam.

McLarenNow telehealth offers visits for urgent care including cold, flu, or minor injuries. It now is offering it for COVID-19 symptoms. MidMichigan Health’s new telemedicine hub is housed at the East End Building, 715 E. Main St. in Midland.

“It’s really exciting because this allows the patient to stay at home,” Watson said. “They don’t have to get in their car and potentially expose anybody else in between home and wherever they’re being screened.”

At the beginning of the crisis, MidMichigan Health and McLaren Bay Region put emergency precautions in place. One of those precautions was placing tents outside emergency departments in order to screen potential COVID-19 patients without exposing other patients and hospital employees.

Avoiding exposure is the key to fighting coronavirus.

McLaren Bay Region details its guidelines at https://www.mclaren.org/bay-region/patient-and-visitor-mclaren-bay-region McLaren Bay Region also posted an interview with Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Brad Blaker on its website at https://soundcloud.com/user-417347119-108693962

The Bay County Health Department also has a page with information about COVID-19 at https://www.baycounty-mi.gov/health/coronavirus.aspx MidMichigan hospital has created a COVID-19 update page on its website at https://www.midmichigan.org/conditions-treatments/coronavirus/

“We can’t reiterate enough how much social distancing and handwashing help,” Watson said. “I know it sounds simple and I know we’ve said it a million times, but we still see people not following the guidelines.”

The virus is spread through droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes. The droplets spread about 6 feet in the air before dropping down to coat hard surfaces such as countertops or handrails. The virus can survive as long as nine days on a hard surface.

That’s why social distancing guidelines call for staying at least 6 feet away from other people. Handwashing means using soap and water on all surfaces of your hand for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub the top of your hand, palm, in between your fingers, and all the way up to your wrist. Wash your hands frequently, but especially after touching any hard surfaces.

“It’s is very important that if we touch surfaces, we don’t touch our mouth, nose, or eyes because we might transmit the virus to ourselves,” Watson said.

Joel Strasz, public health director for the Bay County Health Department said he is working closely with McLaren Bay Region to prepare for a rise in cases in the next few weeks.

Strasz also emphasized the important of handwashing and social distancing. He reminded people to frequently disinfect commonly-touched surfaces at work and at home. If you are sick or have a family member who is sick, stay home as much as possible, Strasz said.

Due to shortages in testing materials, COVID-19 tests are only available for specific, high-risk populations.If you are sick, take steps to protect your family. Isolate the sick person as much as possible. Strasz said the sick person should not share pencils, cups, or other objects with anyone in the household. If it’s possible, give the sick person his or her own bathroom. Designated one caregiver to help the person when necessary. Frequently disinfect all surfaces near the ill person.

Like Watson, Strasz also emphasized that people should call their doctor before going to the office or a hospital. In some cases, physicians may recommend staying at home. In others, they can direct patients to the best place for treatment.

 “This is going to be a difficult situation for people,” Strasz said. “I know at this point in time, there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. We’re working diligently here at the health department and throughout the county to coordinate care and help prepare the community for what’s coming.”

Strasz said Bay County faces an increased threat because older adults are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. In Bay County, about 1 in 4 residents is over age 60. The Bay County Health Department is working closely with McLaren Bay Region daily to prepare for a surge in cases.

“We know this is going to be a long process over the next days and weeks. We are committed to working with the broader community,” Strasz said.

Due to shortages in testing materials, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that only specific, high-risk populations are tested through state labs for COVID-19. The state has defined those high-risk populations as:

  • Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are identified as a known contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
  • Individuals who develop COVID-19 symptoms while already in a 14-day monitoring quarantine. This could include someone who is being monitored after visiting a region with widespread cases.
  • Individuals who are part of a cluster of illnesses associated with a vulnerable population, such as a long-term care facility or nursing home.
  • Individuals with symptoms who are likely to infect many others, such as health care workers.
  • Individuals presenting with severe illnesses who are admitted to the hospital and show symptoms.


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