Lifespan preparing for possible spread of coronavirus in United States


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns it’s not a matter of if the coronavirus will spread nationwide, but when, adding that the country needs to ensure it’s prepared for a potential pandemic.

In the meantime, one Rhode Island doctor tells Eyewitness News there is no need for people to panic just yet.

In response to the coronavirus possibly spreading to Rhode Island, Dr. Selim Suner, the director of disaster medicine and emergency preparedness at Rhode Island Hospital, said Lifespan has formulated a plan to keep both patients and hospital staff safe.

He said Lifespan has taken inventory at each of its hospitals to ensure they are stocked with masks and other protective equipment.

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At this time, Suner said Lifespan is not experiencing a mask shortage, adding “we have stores of masks that were left over from prior preparedness activities… We are always working with our vendors to get supplies.”

Suner said Lifespan is also conserving masks.

“We are using masks appropriately,” he said. “We have plans in case we run short of how to reuse masks and prolonged use of masks.”

Suner said everyone has probably come down with a coronavirus infection at some point, describing it as the common cold. But, he said this specific virus is different because it spread from an animal species to a human. 

“Our body has never seen this virus,” Suner said. “So, we have a reaction to this virus that can cause severe illness in certain populations.”

Suner said the elderly are most at risk of coming down with the coronavirus. He said unlike the flu, children will not be affected as much. 

He said the virus can attack the upper and lower respiratory tracts, causing sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, cough and pneumonia. According to recent data from China, Suner said the virus can also attack the intestinal tract with diarrhea. 

Even though preparations are ramping up across the country, Suner said there’s no need for people to panic.

“There have not been large numbers of transmitted cases in the United States,” he explained. “If and when that happens, I think the United States is prepared for that. The CDC is working hard to develop testing protocols to prevent cases from spreading in case there was community transmission.”

To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 globally and is responsible for almost 3,000 deaths, mostly in mainland China. Thirty other countries have seen coronavirus cases, with growing outbreaks in Japan, Italy and South Korea.

Web Extra: Watch an extended interview with Dr. Selim Suner below.

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