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I think I have coronavirus symptoms. Now what?

As Maryland officials confirmed three cases of the new coronavirus in the state this week, healthcare experts have instructed people to adopt myriad preventative measures in hopes of containing the disease.

But what should Marylanders do if they suspect they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are have symptoms such as fever, cough and breathing trouble?

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Here’s what experts recommend if you believe you could have the disease:

Don’t go to the doctor right away. Call first.

While some Marylanders’ first instinct may be to make an appointment with a doctor or head to a hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to call ahead first to alert healthcare providers to coronavirus concerns.

This will help medical professionals to take steps to keep others from getting infected or exposed, the agency website states. Tell them about recent travel and close contacts, such as other members of the household.

If possible, put on a face mask before coming into contact with other people or entering a facility and ask the healthcare provider to call the local or state health department.

In the event of a medical emergency, people should call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that they are being evaluated for COVID-19, the CDC recommends.

Getting tested

To request COVID-19 testing for a suspect case, healthcare providers must contact the state’s Infectious Disease Bureau at 410-767-6700 during business hours or call the state’s Emergency Call Center after hours at 410-795-7365 to arrange the initial disease consultation, according to Maryland health officials.

COVID-19 testing can only be conducted with authorization from a state physician–epidemiologist and is restricted to patients who meet the current CDC criteria, which was recently expanded to include people who have not traveled or come in contact with someone infected but are hospitalized with serious symptoms not otherwise explained.

Health officials will likely collect patient specimens from the upper and lower respiratory tract.

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In the three Maryland cases, the patients were instructed to go to an unidentified hospital emergency room where medical staff in protective equipment collected samples for testing.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday night that the three cases were confirmed at the Public Health Laboratory in East Baltimore, which was approved Tuesday to test patients for COVID-19. Local testing is expected to shorten the amount of time it takes to get results to a day from the several days it took from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab in Atlanta.

Okay I’ve been tested. Now what?

The three Marylanders who tested positive for the new coronavirus are all in isolation in their homes, state officials said.

The CDC recommends patients with COVID-19 stay home with the exception of seeking medical care. Patients should not attend work or school and should avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing and taxis, the CDC recommends.

Those who have self-isolated within the home should separate from other people and animals. Wearing a face mask, covering coughs and sneezes is believed to help mitigate the spread of the infection. The CDC recommends individuals who are ill should avoid sharing personal household items, clean hands often, clean all “high-touch” surfaces like counters and door knobs.

Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low. The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments, the CDC states.

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