April 2, 2020

COVID-19: The latest information

Kaiser Permanente is working closely with local and national agencies to monitor and respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While COVID-19 can be fatal in a small percentage of those who get it, David Witt, MD, national infectious disease leader at Kaiser Permanente, recommends taking a cautious and calm approach — know the latest, know your risk, and know how to protect yourself and others.

Kaiser Permanente is prepared

“Kaiser Permanente has confronted highly infectious diseases for years, and we are confident we can safely treat patients who have been infected with this virus with limited risk to other patients, members, visitors, and employees,” said Dr. Witt. “However, as the COVID-19 situation rapidly advances, the demands on the health care system threaten to exhaust our supplies, equipment, and our people.”

To prepare for an anticipated surge in the number of people who will need care, Kaiser Permanente is actively engaged in a nationwide planning effort to ensure our facilities, resources, and staff are prepared for this demand. Here’s what we’ve implemented thus far:

  • Telehealth options: We’re proactively extending the use of telehealth appointments via video and phone where appropriate. This allows people to stay home and still get great care while helping address the community spread of COVID-19 and easing the global shortage of personal protective equipment — masks, gowns, and gloves. We’re also encouraging the use of our mail-order pharmacy service to help members avoid unnecessary outings.
  • Consolidation to meet critical needs: In some areas, we’re closing or minimizing services at our medical office buildings as we convert to telehealth appointments. By temporarily consolidating, we can support a potential surge in the number of people who need hospitalization, meet the critical need to conserve personal protective equipment, and limit exposure to the virus for both members and employees. Our urgent care and medical centers are open and operating and remain safe places to be.
  • Careful supply management: We’ve been prudently managing our resources for weeks, ensuring we have had adequate access to protective equipment and medical supplies needed for the screening and treatment of patients with potential and confirmed COVID-19 infections. As the virus is spreading quickly through many communities, we’ve gone from screening a few patients a day to screening hundreds, and our equipment and supply needs have increased dramatically as a result. We are carefully managing supply access in each of our facilities, and we continue to secure additional supplies through traditional as well as innovative means, such as making face shields and working with small businesses in the garment industry to begin making masks for Kaiser Permanente.
“Our goal is to ensure we have adequate access to the protective equipment and medical supplies needed for the screening and treatment of COVID-19 patients now and over the long run,” said Dr. Witt. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support we have received from our communities and business partners to help source additional supplies.” Please see the information and guidelines for donating or becoming a new vendor if you wish to contribute to this effort.

The latest

In the United States, as in many parts of the world, the situation is rapidly evolving. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. On March 13, President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency. As of April 1, states and cities representing more than three-quarters of the United States population are under some form of stay-at-home order in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Experts and public health officials worldwide have confirmed the coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In line with CDC and public health department guidance, recommendations by the World Health Organization, and the practices of other health care providers around the country, Kaiser Permanente is now treating patients who may have or are confirmed to have COVID-19 using the appropriate droplet protections for screening and routine care. Kaiser Permanente, like other health care systems, has used droplet infection control protocols for decades to treat similar droplet-borne diseases such as influenza. For patient care procedures that would generate airborne particles, our care teams are using airborne protections.

“Our top priority continues to be safely caring for patients and protecting the health and safety of our workforce,” said Dr. Witt. “We would not be using droplet protection protocols if it were unsafe or would put our patients and care teams at greater risk.”

We’re working closely with the CDC as well as state and local public health departments to monitor the progress of this illness, and we’ll adjust our practices according to public health guidance. 

Risk of exposure

While the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus remains low for most people in the United States, according to the CDC, more cases of COVID-19 are going to be identified in the coming days.

Anyone of any age can contract this virus. The novel coronavirus can spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet) through respiratory droplets. A person also might be able to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes, but according to the CDC, this is likely not the main way the virus spreads.

People with COVID-19 have mild to severe symptoms that can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While the CDC continues to report that most cases of COVID-19 are mild (including many with no reported symptoms), older people and people of all ages with serious chronic medical conditions (such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes) seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19.

If you are a member who is experiencing health symptoms or if you have questions about coronavirus testing or coverage, please visit the Coronavirus and COVID-19 page on kp.org.

How to protect yourself and others

There is no vaccine yet for the virus, so the best way to protect yourself and others is by practicing social distancing and doing the same things you do to avoid getting any other virus, like the flu, according to Dr. Witt. He recommends getting a flu shot and following these important steps:

We can all play a part in responding to this evolving health threat, according to Dr. Witt. “To protect ourselves and the communities we all live in, stopping the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses is a priority,” he said. “Those everyday habits — washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, staying home if you’re sick — are more important now than ever.”