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Meredith Burt, RN: Common questions on novel coronavirus

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Editor's note: As the facts and situation around COVID-19 (commonly known as novel coronavirus) continue to evolve, Meredith Burt, RN, infection preventionist for Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, will provide bi-weekly updates to answer commonly-asked questions.

By Meredith Burt

- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Fever, dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath are the common symptoms. Less common symptoms are sneezing and sore throat. Some people have no symptoms at all. At least 80 percent of infected patients will experience minor symptoms and recover as they would from any cold or flu. Not all that test positive will be hospitalized.

- How is COVID-19 spread?

Person-to-person spread of the virus occurs mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

- Who should wear a surgical mask?

Healthy individuals do not need to wear masks — a mask won't protect you. Healthy people wearing masks could cause shortages of masks for those who need them. If you do have symptoms, wearing a mask can help you avoid transmitting the virus (via respiratory droplets) to others.

- Could an infected person be spreading the virus before they have symptoms of COVID-19?

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People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

- If I do have symptoms, should I go to my doctor or straight to the emergency room?

If you are experiencing difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, new confusion, unable to wake up, have bluish lips or face, please go to the emergency room. If you are experiencing fever and dry cough and do not have other serious symptoms, please call your primary care clinician first, prior to entering the building. This allows them to determine the best treatment option for you. If you do not have a primary care clinician and need an immediate appointment, call the BMH Centralized Scheduling Department, 802-251-8777.

- If I think I should be tested, and my primary care clinician agrees, what are the next steps?

If your clinician determines that a COVID-19 test is appropriate, they should follow the following steps: The ordering clinician will call the internal COVID-19 testing hotline number (your clinician's office will have this number on file). The hotline coordinator will then provide an appointment time for you to arrive to the local testing site. The testing site for our area is located in the parking lot behind the BMH Community Health Team office at 120 Maple St., Brattleboro. Our team of clinical personnel will greet you and provide you with instructions. You'll remain in your car for the entire duration of the test.


Incubation period: The period of time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms begin.

Community spread (community transmission): Is said to have occurred when people have been infected without any knowledge of contact with someone who has the same infection.

Meredith Burt, RN, is an infection preventionist for Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.


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