Health care providers taking steps to address COVID-19 concerns

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The World Health Organization on March 11 declared COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, to be a pandemic.

Coronavirus was identified in China in December 2019 as the source of an outbreak of respiratory illnesses. As of March 12, there were nearly 125,000 cases confirmed globally in more than 100 countries, resulting in 4,585 deaths.

The United States counted 1,215 confirmed and presumptive positive cases, with 36 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since Jan. 21.

As of March 12, six people in South Carolina have tested positive for coronavirus, along with six presumptive positive cases. No cases have been reported in Beaufort County.

Initially, the epicenter of the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, where large seafood and live animal markets suggest an animal-to-person spread of the virus. Then it evolved into person-to-person contact.

To date, there is no cure nor vaccine. The federal government is working closely with state, local, tribal and territorial partners to lessen the spread and impact of the virus.

Here's a roundup of preparedness of local hospitals, none of which have test kits for determining the pandemic virus:

Beaufort Memorial Hospital: "Our No. 1 priority is the protection of our patients and staff, and we also need to do our part to protect the larger community," BMH President and CEO Russell Baxley said.

He encourages patients to call ahead at its primary care or express care clinics if experiencing a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Memorial Health University Medical Center, Savannah: No cases of the new coronavirus have been reported at this hospital.

"We are grateful that we have not experienced impact locally of this new coronavirus," Memorial Health CEO Shayne George said. "Our goal is to take every precaution to keep our patients, our caregivers and our community safe by avoiding any spread of this virus, should it, into our community."

The hospital has limited guest visiting hours.

Hilton Head Regional Healthcare (Hilton Head Hospital, Coastal Carolina Hospital, Bluffton/Okatie Outpatient Center and Tidewatch): It is not equipped to diagnose or treat this virus, although it does treat routine infectious diseases. It suggests that those suffering from flu-like symptoms to contact the Beaufort and Jasper County Health departments or the CDC.

LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics cannot collect specimens at patient service centers, but the companies do accept specimens for testing if sent by a physician or authorized healthcare provider. Healthcare professionals also can order test kits from the companies.

The CDC advises people to:

• Stay home when sick with respiratory symptoms. Currently, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash.

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after visiting the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

• If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol.

• Routinely clean touched surfaces and objects.

Contacts: CDC, 800-232-4636, cdc.gov; and Beaufort County Health Department, 843-525-7615, scdhec.gov.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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