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Coronavirus: who needs to get tested?

Posted at 4:35 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 09:59:30-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Four more people have died from the coronavirus in Washington state. That brings the total number of deaths to six in that state and the U.S. The number of people sick nationwide now stands at 91, according to the CDC. In Maryland, the risk is still low. Of six people tested, five have come back negative and one is still pending.

Medical professionals said we are going to start seeing more and more people being tested, but it's not necessarily because the illness is spreading in Maryland. It's in part because the CDC expanded the criteria for who can get tested, and the availability of the test has increased.

So who is getting tested? The CDC has laid out several guidelines for testing that the Maryland Department of Health is following. All include signs of the symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The CDC said people with those symptoms, coupled with either recent travel to affected areas, like China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, or close contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient, should get tested. The last category of people don't need an identified source of exposure, but instead have severe symptoms requiring hospitalization and tested negative for the flu.

Maryland doctors said it's much more likely that someone with symptoms has the flu not the coronavirus.

"In this area, really influenza is the virus of concern here," said Dr. Mimi Novello, Vice President of Medical Affairs at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

45 people have died from the flu in Maryland so far this season. The symptoms are similar, but the difference is, there's a vaccine for the flu, but not for the coronavirus.

"There is no treatment for this virus so preventing is the most important piece," said Novello.

And that prevention works for both viruses. It means less hand to hand contact and practicing good hand hygiene.

"Good hand-washing: 20 seconds with soap and water, liberally using hand sanitizer, using practices where you cough or sneeze into a tissue and then dispose appropriately with that, making sure we are cleaning off surfaces and disinfecting our environment," said Novello.

Doctors are also warning about several misconceptions floating around about the virus. The first is that masks are needed. The U.S. Surgeon General has since come out and said they are not effective in preventing people from catching the virus and if people keep buying them, it will impact the supply for places that really do need them, like hospitals.

Another misconception online is for "cures," which are fake ads because there is no treatment for the coronavirus.

"People can go waste their money. People can think they're protected and take risky actions that they shouldn't be taking and sometimes these actual so-called cures will harm people themselves," said Dr. Tara Kirk Sell with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.