WEST LEBANON — As events around the area are canceled and people begin to self-quarantine due to concerns around the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, many people say they are still unclear about what to do if they start feeling unwell.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock announced Thursday evening that it is seeing an uptick in patients sent directly to its emergency department for COVID-19 screening and testing — but Dartmouth-Hitchcock is asking patients and providers to take other steps first if a person does not need emergency care.

Patients’ symptoms

Initial symptoms of the virus can show up between two days and two weeks after exposure and include a fever, shortness of breath and a cough, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s website. The virus can also cause fatigue and some gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, according to The New York Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Vermont Department of Health say people who are concerned they may have the virus should not immediately go to the hospital. Instead, they should call their primary care provider right away for advice. People who don’t have health care providers can call the N.H. Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 271-4496 or the Vermont Department of Health at 802-863-7240.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock patients “who are experiencing fever, cough, or shortness of breath or are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19” should first call the Dartmouth-Hitchcock COVID-19 hotline at 650-1818 for screening and, if appropriate, scheduling testing, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Anyone with questions or concerns regarding the virus can also call 211 hotlines in both New Hampshire and Vermont.

Recommendations for providers

Dartmouth-Hitchcock advised providers against sending patients directly to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Emergency Department as a first step.

“If a patient does not exhibit signs that warrant an emergency department evaluation or immediate hospital admission, providers should ask the patient to don a mask and return to their home for self-quarantine and follow (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines pending further decisions on COVID-19 testing,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock announced Thursday evening.

Self-isolation

The best thing potentially infected or exposed people can do is start quarantining themselves at home, according to CDC recommendations. While at home, they should frequently wash their hands, limit contact with family members and pets, and clean household surfaces.

“It’s about limiting the impact on the community,” said Jenn Alford-Teaster, a senior research scientist at Geisel School of Medicine and former senior research support specialist at the New England Center for Emergency Preparedness. Alford-Teaster, who noted she is not speaking on behalf of Dartmouth College, said 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild, and that self-isolation is largely about protecting more vulnerable people.

At higher risk

People who have recently traveled to China, Italy, Iran, South Korea or Japan, or who have come in contact with someone who’s known to have the virus, are urged to call their department of health, according to a news release on Vermont’s health department's website.

Anyone over the age of 60, or with underlying health conditions like cardiovascular disease, lung disease, asthma and diabetes, are at higher risk of catching the virus. The CDC says people at higher risk should call their doctor, avoid other people and crowds, wash their hands often and stay home when sick.

Many people will not get tested unless they have a recent history of travel or a known exposure to the case, University of Vermont Medical Center officials said in a news conference Thursday.

Worsening illness

For some who get sick, the illness may get more severe and could require hospitalization, but the CDC says a person should always call their provider before going into the hospital. Worsening conditions could include more difficulty breathing, bluish lips or face, pain or pressure in the chest, and confusion, according to the CDC.

Though there’s currently no approved antiviral medication for COVID-19, physicians treating more severe symptoms would first decide whether to test a patient and isolate them in the hospital for assessment, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s website.

Find more information about COVID-19 and find all of the Valley News’ reporting on the virus at www.vnews.com/coronavirus. All stories are free to access. 

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