Mass General Physicians Answer Questions about COVID-19


I’m Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. We recognize that these are uncertain times and people are scared. And I’m Dr. Paul Biddinger, I’m the Director of the Center for Disaster Medicine at Mass General Hospital. Dr Walensky and I would like to take a moment to answer some of your questions and try to help you understand what is happening with this outbreak and how to protect yourselves and your families. The coronavirus as we believe emerged from bats. Most coronaviruses come from bats, probably jumped from bats to another animal before it comes to the human. The viruses generally cause a
spectrum of diseases from very benign diseases like the common cold to more
severe diseases like MERS SARS and now COVID-19 In order to protect yourself it’s really
important to try and not have your eyes, your nose, your mouth exposed to the
droplets with coronavirus. That means being very aware of touching your face.
It means washing your hands thoroughly, more than 20 seconds each time with soap
and water, and it means covering your cough if you yourself are ill. Try and
stay six feet away from other persons and avoid people who appear ill. We know that people can present with
actually no symptoms at all whereas some people can get quite sick with the
disease. About 80 percent of people have mild to moderate disease and do quite
well at home. Another 15 percent will require hospitalization and an
additional five percent will require critical or ICU level care.
We know that people tend to do poorer with the disease if they are elderly
over 70, if they have immuno-compromising disease ,cardiovascular disease, liver
disease, or other chronic lung disease. We’ve learned how we can do our best to
make sure that our healthcare resources are available for patients who most need
them. We’ve learned that it’s safe to stay at home for patients with fever and
mild symptoms and we’ve learned that patients should come to the hospital if
they have chest pain, trouble breathing or severe dizziness. We’ve also learned
how to protect our hospitals and our health care workers and make sure that
we can surge in our abilities to care for patients with intensive care needs
such as needs for a ventilator and other critical care resources. The test is actually quite a simple test.
It”s a swab that goes in your nose and in your mouth to test for the virus. Once
that test is done it is sent to the lab and we look for virus in the lab. The
turnaround time can be as short as several hours to a day or two, depending
on where the test is done and the test can be conducted really in any site and
not necessarily needs to be in the hospital. As of March 21st we still have
some testing shortage and we’re really encouraging people to only get a test if
they are symptomatic. If they are symptomatic and they test positive we
can use that information to understand how people should be isolated. We know for a fact that social
distancing saves lives. It protects the lives of those who are most vulnerable
including those who are older, as well as those with chronic health conditions, but
it takes every single one of us to participate in social distancing in
order for the strategy to work. I know especially young people may not feel
that they are vulnerable and may not be as willing to socially distance, but
parents please tell this to your children and for those who are younger
listening now, understand that we all have to play our part for this response
to work. The coronavirus has varied similar
symptoms as the flu with fever and cough, but when we talk about how the corona
virus is spread it’s very different than the flu for two important reasons. First
the corona virus is actually twice about twice as infectious as the flu. Secondly
we actually don’t have a vaccine for the coronavirus where we do for the flu and
50% of people get vaccinated for the flu every year. Taken together you have both
a more infectious virus and no immunity in the population vet from vaccination
which is why it’s so important that we take the measures we’re taking. There’s no way to know for certain how
long this outbreak will last, but we can look to history for some guide. In
previous influenza pandemics including the most severe pandemic in 1918. The
waves tend to last about two to three months and that’s actually about what we
saw in China no one can make a prediction for certain of course but
we’ll know when things are starting to get better when we see the rates of new
cases beginning to decline. That question very much depends on who
you are. If you are planning on staying home with a cough and fever anyway you’re
likely do quite well and what you should do is self isolate and make sure you
protect your family from getting similar symptoms. However if you’re at high risk
somebody over the age of 70 with immuno compromising diseases, cardiovascular
disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, then I would urge you to reach out to
your primary care provider and see if they can arrange a test for you. I understand why people have concerns
about traveling, but some people certainly have to travel for personal or
other reasons. Airplanes are not nearly as concerning as many people may fear in
fact the air exchanges are sometimes more than even a hospital has and really
the risk of infection is limited to about two rows in front, two rows behind
and the seats two seats to your left and right. But when you’re out in public
whether it’s in a train or in an airport make sure that you wash your hands
frequently, you’re careful about the surfaces that you touch, and you try and
maintain a distance of six feet or so between you and other people whenever
possible. We generally keep people in
self-isolation after being diagnosed with COVID-19 for around 14 days to
ensure that when they come out of isolation they’re not contagious for
other people. That’s a critical control mechanism for the disease. We don’t know
actually if you can get COVID-19 again but we believe not and there are active
studies examining this question. When a new virus like COVID-19 enters a
community all it seizes opportunity because none of us is immune. However as
more and more people are infected more people become immune and it gets harder
and harder for the virus to be transmitted. In addition when we practice
good social distancing we take away the opportunity for the virus to be
transmitted and between that social distancing and growing immunity,
ultimately this outbreak will collapse under its own weight and we will get
through this wave. We are hopeful that things will improve
with coronaviruses the warmer weather comes. We know that other coronaviruses
like the cold viruses do get better over the summer as does influenza. There are
three important things that we’re watching: First by the time summer comes
a lot of people will have already had the disease and will be immune.
The second is human behavior. Many people gather inside in the winter and yet
outside in the summer and that will help decrease the spread. And then finally we
believe people’s immune system is quite a bit better over the summer. What we know is that more than 80% of
cases of COVID have mild illness and people don’t need to see their doctor or
come into the hospital, but everyone should watch for their symptoms. If you
feel like you’re having increasing trouble breathing, if you have pain in
your chest, if you feel very dizzy or you’re too weak to eat and drink
effectively, then call your doctor or come into the emergency department, but
call first. We don’t know if the coronavirus will
come back after the summer into the fall. Certainly the 1918 flu pandemic did
reemerge after the summer and we need to be vigilant. There are three important
factors that we’re going to be looking at. First, we know that we hope that
patients who have had the disease already will be immune and that will
help person-to-person transmission. Second, we’re hopeful that we’ll have a
lot more tests we will be able to scale up testing broadly and that if you have
the disease you can self isolate quickly. And third, we’re hoping that science will
emerge so we will be better informed on how to best treat the virus. On behalf of Dr. Walensky and myself, we
would very much like to thank you for watching. We hope that we have been
helpful to you in providing answers to some of the questions we know that you
have. We know that in these challenging times people want answers to help them
understand what’s happening. I’ve spent my entire adult life learning, studying
and being on the frontlines of infectious diseases. These are scary
times, but we will get through it. There are legions of providers and healthcare
workers out there working for you. Thank you.

10 Replies to “Mass General Physicians Answer Questions about COVID-19

  1. People please wear MASKS and GLOVES. They work. Masks and Gloves will stop spreading deadly Coronavirus.

  2. Please provide protective gear like Masks, gloves and goggles for grocery and hardware stores workers.

  3. Here are the latest stats from Massachusetts…https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-cases-in-massachusetts-as-of-march-22-2020/download Note that the bulk of the patients are in Middlesex and Suffolk county and CURIOUSLY…… there are far more infections among the 20 to 59 age population….. Might that be because Massachusetts has allowed Vaping and legalized Marijuana…. and well….. asthma and respiratory problems are more prevalent in your state for those reasons?

  4. My question is why did you not prepare from this inevitable pandemic? Why are your medical staff working without proper PPE?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *