Feb 25 panel

As Americans prepare for the wider spread of the newly named coronavirus disease, COVID-19, Loma Linda University Health, in partnership with the World Affairs Council of Inland Southern California, hosted an event to examine the science behind COVID-19, its affect on local communities and what individuals can do to prepare for and prevent its spread.

The February 25 presentation and panel discussion featured hospital leadership and local public health officials. Attendees and community members were able to submit questions via text, web and social media.

Loma Linda University Health President Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH, said the event was intended to ease anxiety about COVID-19 by addressing misinformation, sharing how Loma Linda University Health and local county officials will approach a potential outbreak.

Adrian Cotton, MD, chief of medical operations at Loma Linda University Health, said the potential public health threat both globally and in the United States is high; however, the individual risk of contracting this disease is low. 

“The key to risk is exposure — if you have been in close contact with someone who has traveled to China within the last 14 days and have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, you may be infected,” Cotton said. “Every person who is sick with COVID-19 has the potential of passing it [on average] to 2.8 other people.”

Cotton said there is no vaccine available for coronavirus, nor is there treatment for the disease; however, hospitals will provide supportive care to diagnosed patients. 

Cotton said he finds the flu more worrisome than coronavirus. He said, to date, there have been 45 million cases of the flu in the United States and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths versus 80,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide and 2,700 deaths. There have been 59 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and no deaths.

“Precautions are the same for the flu, as both are transmitted through droplets rather than airborne spread,” Cotton said. “Take preventative measures like washing your hands often and staying away from others who are sick to reduce your risk of infection.”

Two panelists also offered their insights. 

Cameron Kaiser, MD, MPH, FAAFP, a Loma Linda University School of Medicine graduate class of 2003, is the public health officer for the County of Riverside, California.

Kaiser led the two-week quarantine of airline passengers last month at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County. The passengers had been evacuated from the disease epicenter in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

“COVID-19 is the first infectious agent to trigger a federal quarantine in over 50 years,” Kaiser said. “We ensured medical care continuity and security for those in quarantine.”

Erin Gustafson, MD, MPH, is the medical director and assistant health officer for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

Gustafson encouraged community members to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19.

The program is available for viewing at the Loma Linda University Health Facebook page and YouTube channel. Visit our coronavirus website to see facts and preventative tips to keep you and your family healthy.