May 21, 2020

COVID-19: The latest information

Kaiser Permanente is working closely with local, state, and national agencies to respond to the pandemic and suppress further spread of the virus.

In the United States, as in many parts of the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve. As cases of COVID-19 rise in some areas, the rate of new infections is starting to flatten or decline in other areas.

David Witt, MD, national infectious disease leader at Kaiser Permanente, continues to recommend a cautious and calm approach as states across the country begin to slowly lift restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.  

Kaiser Permanente’s response

Since February, the Kaiser Permanente National Command Center has overseen every aspect of our coordinated response to COVID-19 — from delivery of masks and gowns to placement of ventilators, to opening extra space in our medical centers for the high number of members who need round-the-clock inpatient care. We are safely treating thousands of patients who have been infected with COVID-19, with limited risk to other patients, members, and employees.

“We are deeply grateful to our medical teams, staff, and employees who are expertly and compassionately caring for and protecting our members, patients, communities, and each other,” said Dr. Witt.

While most of our urgent care and medical centers remain open and operating and are safe places to be, we temporarily closed some of our medical office buildings and consolidated to fewer locations to ensure the ability to provide high-quality care for our members and prepare for the anticipated increase in the number of patients with COVID-19. We also extended the use of telehealth appointments by phone and video and encouraged the use of our mail-order pharmacy services.

As always, Kaiser Permanente emergency departments remain fully open, available, and safe for those who need to receive care during this pandemic. We are always open for those who need care for serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and appendicitis. People in need of emergency care shouldn’t avoid or delay it.

“We are working on plans to assess when we can gradually reopen facilities as appropriate in alignment with federal, state, and local health authority guidance,” said Dr. Witt.

Using that same guidance, Kaiser Permanente is working on resuming nonurgent and elective surgeries in a safe, expeditious, and coordinated manner that will continue to protect our patients, staff, and communities. That work includes reassessing and re-triaging patients to prioritize those whose procedures have been delayed due to the pandemic.

Looking ahead

The next phase of Kaiser Permanente’s response to COVID-19, called suppression, is now getting underway.

When viral transmission slows down and the rate of new infections becomes manageable, we traditionally rely on testing, vaccines, and treatments to stop a virus spread. 

For COVID-19, we still lack a vaccine and broadly successful treatment medications. Without them, our effective suppression strategy includes 3 critical components:

  • Prevent the spread using community and public health tools to quickly identify new cases at the local level and hot spots at the national level. These tools include testing, monitoring, and contact tracing to recognize, and prepare for, potential hot spots.
  • Flex the delivery system to allow hospitals, physician groups, and others to separate COVID-19 patients from other patients and to respond to changing needs as hot spots develop. 
  • Retain expanded treatment capabilities including the ability to increase treatment space, staff, and supplies to manage surges — even as we reopen the health care system with new, social-distancing measures in place. 

As part of this effort, Kaiser Permanente continues to invest in internal capacity to support additional testing — including purchasing additional instruments and working with suppliers to increase the number of test kits. We have instituted testing through our own clinical laboratories to augment testing capacity. And Kaiser Permanente is constructing a 7,700-square-foot lab in Berkeley, California, that is expected to be able to process 10,000 tests per day when it opens in June.

Finally, we continue to rely on our expanded telehealth and mail-order pharmacy services to limit possible transmission of the virus. Approximately 75% of our care visits systemwide are now completed virtually, including more than 30,000 per day via video. In addition, our mail-order pharmacy dispensing is at the highest volume in our history — 3.6 million prescriptions in April — a 61% jump from March.

“Our priority continues to be ensuring the health and safety of patients, members, and our employees,” said Dr. Witt. “Our infectious disease experts continue to work closely with public health authorities to advocate for practices that will help us suppress this disease and prevent another rise in COVID-19 cases.”

Continue to protect yourself and others

If you are a member who is experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, or if you have questions about coronavirus testing or coverage, please call your doctor or the number on the back of your Kaiser Permanente medical card. Additional guidance can be found on the Coronavirus and COVID-19 page on kp.org.

We can all play a part in responding to this evolving health threat, according to Dr. Witt. We continue to encourage everyone to practice healthy habits to protect themselves and others:

  • Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to keep your immunity strong.
  • Comply with public health stay-at-home orders. Leave home only for medical care or to shop for essentials. If you or anyone in your family develops any of the symptoms listed above, call your doctor.
  • Wear a mask when in a community setting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth when in public settings. This is an additional public health measure in addition to social distancing, frequent hand cleaning, and other everyday preventive actions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.