By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
As the novel coronavirus emerges to threaten a global health crisis, DC 37 is protecting the workers who protect the health of New Yorkers at public hospitals and clinics and in emergencies.
“This is a public health concern, and while there are few reports of patients infected with Covid-19, or coronavirus, in the US, there have been only a handful of confirmed cases in New York,” said DC 37 Safety and Health Director Deborah A. Williams. “But that can change.”
“It was only a matter of time before the coronavirus would arrive in our area, and it has,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “Since the outbreak began, we have been working diligently with H+H and other city agencies to ensure that our members are well prepared to provide the vital health care services to those afflicted by the virus, while also ensuring protocols are in place to protect our members while carrying out their duties.”
The union is cooperating with the citywide coordinated plan to monitor and contain coronavirus and has in place best practices based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control, NYC Health+Hospitals and the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene protocols to protect public employees who deliver vital services.
In early March, Governor Cuomo announced that the FDA approved New York to test for Covid-19 in Albany to speed up diagnoses. Previously results from the CDC in Washington took 48 hours. Research Scientists in DC 37’s NYC Health Department Technical Professional Employees Local 3005 are performing novel coronavirus testing at the Public Health Laboratory. As PEP Talk went to press, CNN reported 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US, but that figure changes daily.
Health agencies are disseminating the most current information to healthcare workers, including DC 37 members 11 locals: SSEU Local 371, Locals 375, 420, 436, 768, 1549, 924, 1189, 1407, 3005 and FDNY EMS Locals 2507 and 3621.
Bellevue Hospital houses a premier infection control center. Armed with experience from the handling Ebola, Legionnaire’s, and HIV/AIDS and other viruses, in a statement CEO William Hicks said, “We are well-prepared to care for patients with special pathogens and keep the hospital safe.”
Bellevue held town hall meetings and conference calls in February attended by labor leaders Local 420 President Carmen Charles, Local 1189 President Dr. Leonard Davidman, Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez, Lillian Goodwine of the union’s Hospitals and Healthcare Professionals Division, Williams and others. NYC H+H and the city Health Dept., DOHMH, continue to hold labor-management meetings on the latest science and best practices for Covid-19 coronavirus in New York City.
“We are being proactive in getting and sharing the facts to ensure the safety of members, who are the city’s first responders to medical emergencies like coronavirus, and their families,” said Charles.
Novel coronavirus, Covid-19, is a new viral strain of SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It causes mild to severe respiratory illness and spreads person to person. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people. There is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for coronavirus.
Symptoms can range from the common cold to more dangerous SARS. Some patients develop pneumonia in both lungs. Worldwide there are about 92,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 3,000 deaths, six in the US.
Health agencies say the risk to people outside China is low, but medical experts are reporting Covid-19 cases outside Asia in Italy, France, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
By comparison, the flu remains a more immediate threat. Vaccination is recommended. Seniors, people with compromised immune systems, and children are more susceptible to viruses. The US has 15 million flu cases with 8,000 deaths this flu season.
The coronavirus protocol healthcare workers follow includes obtaining a detailed travel history of all patients being evaluated with fever and acute respiratory illness to identify, isolate and inform others promptly. Isolation– a 14-day quarantine — is an important barrier to virus transmission, healthcare professionals agree.
Patients with respiratory illness are asked to wear a mask and are evaluated in a private room with a closed door. Health care personnel wear Personal Protective Equipment, N95 respirators/masks and goggles or face shields. Specimens are sent to Albany and results that a few hours.
When a patient is identified as having coronavirus, medical professionals immediately notify infection control personnel at their facility and the DOHMH. The patient is isolated, monitored and follows up with the DOHMH.
“We are fortunate that our city has not been impacted, yet,” said Oren Barzilay, president of Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Local 2507 in February. “The federal authorities are doing a great job at monitoring the situation and testing people who have traveled outside our country upon their return. We’re hopeful the situation will remain under control.”
DOHMH keeps a Covid-19 case count. The CDC website assesses the various levels of exposure for the general public, health care workers, travelers and people and communities that have close contact with individuals with Covid-19.
Williams reminds people to prevent the transfer of pathogens by washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer liberally. “Refrain from touching eyes, ears, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Cough and sneeze into your arm or a tissue– not your hands or the air,” she said. “Stay home when you’re sick.”
“Since we now have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in New York City,” Williams said, “we must be diligent to follow the prevention protocols that are in place, not allow fear to prevent us from continuing to live our lives, and know that DC 37 will provide all of the information we can to our members about this crisis and its impact on our jobs, our families and communities.”