UCSF Addresses Anxiety Over Coronavirus

Sunday, February 9, 2020

With two patients being treated for novel coronavirus at UCSF, and a possibility of more to come, representatives attempted to ease possible heightened anxiety among faculty, residents, fellows, staff and students by explaining during a Feb. 5 town hall the precautions UCSF is taking.

“It’s an incredibly stressful time for the entire community, whether you’re in the health care system or not,” said town hall moderator Dr. Niraj Sehgal, Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at UCSF Health and professor of medicine.

On Feb. 3, two patients with confirmed novel coronavirus were transferred to the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights from another California county, according to UCSF.

“Taking care of patients with complex illnesses, including infectious diseases, is UCSF Health's expertise and part of UCSF's longstanding commitment to caring for the community,” said Chancellor Sam Hawgood and UCSF Health President and CEO Mark Laret in a joint statement.

Since early January, UCSF Health has been preparing for coronavirus patients by identifying specific units, and rooms within those units, where coronavirus patients would be cared for, said Dr. Adrienne Green, Chief Medical Officer for UCSF Medical Center.

“It’s very, very clear to all of our staff and to any others in the environment what kinds of personal protective equipment and infection prevention types of practices we should be using for the care of these patients,” Green said.

Dr. Chaitali Mukherjee, UCSFs Assistant Vice Chancellor and Executive Medical Director of student Health and Counseling, acknowledged the stress that news about the coronavirus outbreak has caused.

Mukherjee told the audience that “due to some reports we’ve been getting from our students and our academic partners,” she felt it necessary to address wellness in general.

“Just be mindful of words and actions that could perpetuate fear or unfairly stigmatize any member of our community,” she said.

Mukherjee did not elaborate on the reports. However, individuals of Asian descent across the country report a rise is racism in the midst of the outbreak.

UCSF has counseling services for faculty, staff and students who would like to talk about the stress they may be feeling, said Murkherjee.

Thirteen cases are confirmed in the U.S. including six in California as of Feb. 11. These mainly involved people who have travelled to China.

The virus was first identified in December as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It is believed the virus mutated to be able to transfer from animal to human hosts.

As of Feb. 11, more than 43,000 cases have been confirmed — more than 42,000 of those in China. A little over 4,300 have recovered from the virus while more than 1,000 have died.

Coronavirus has taken more lives than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which spread in early 2000. The coronavirus mortality rate is at 2.1%. At its peak, the mortality rate for SARS was 10%.

UCSF virology professor Dr. Charles Chiu has been using CRISPR technology as a way for speedier detection of the virus via a nasal swab and color changing sample strips. Currently, laboratory results can take up to 24 hours, however Chiu is hopeful his 1-2-hour detection method can be easily utilized in “doctor’s clinics, emergency rooms or even potentially at the airport.”

Respiratory droplets and contact with infected surfaces spread the virus. However, the CDC is not recommending that masks be worn universally, said Green, but only around patients.

UCSF is taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus by screening patients for recent travels to China. Every patient is first being asked if they have traveled to China within 2 weeks or has had close contact with a person known to have Coronavirus, and then if they have any fever or respiratory symptoms.

Staff, faculty or students returning from China are barred from returning to campus for 14 days, said Dr. Robert Kosnik, Director of UCSF Occupational Health.

UCSF Occupational Health has been involved since late January in the campus initiative to identify people who are traveling, especially those traveling to and from China, said Kosnik.

“There weren’t that many in China,” he said.

The U.S. Department of State issued its highest advisory level 4 signifying “do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus” on Jan. 31, 2020. The UCSF website has advice to employees who are traveling and a link to inform Occupational Health of your travels.

UCSF Occupational Health urges any employees who are sick or have a fever to stay at home.

“It applies for all viruses, particularly for the flu virus circulating right now,” Kosnik said.