BlueCross Chief Medical Officer Addresses Coronavirus

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina wants you to know that we are closely monitoring the coronavirus epidemic, which has now been classified as a global health emergency. Here is some important information from our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Bartels. 

Confusion and miscommunication are common in situations such as this. Dr. Bartels provides a great perspective on the coronavirus and shares links to information resources so you can get accurate and up-to-date information. You can be confident that health care professionals around the world — and right here in South Carolina — are taking this situation seriously.

1. There is so much in the news about coronavirus that is scary and potentially confusing. What do you want people to know?

Late yesterday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus a global health emergency, which is an acknowledgement of the risk the virus poses to countries beyond its origin in Wuhan, China. 

However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), currently in South Carolina — and throughout the U.S. — people are at far greater risk for the flu. 

Nevertheless, because we live in a global society, there are legitimate concerns about the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, as it poses a serious public health threat. It appears that this virus is spread by human-to-human contact and droplets from coughs and sneezes, just like previous outbreaks of other strains of the coronavirus: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS; and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS.

Jan. 31, 2020

Dr. Matthew Bartels Hover image

Dr. Matthew Bartels is the Chief Medical Officer for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. 

As of Friday morning, Jan. 31, there are approximately 10,000 confirmed cases in China and there is a small but growing number of cases confirmed in more than 20 other countries, including six in the United States. Also, according to the CDC, there are 165 cases under investigation in the U.S. None are in South Carolina as of this writing. 

Currently, human-to-human spread of the coronavirus has been confirmed in China, which is the epicenter of the epidemic, as well as one human-to-human confirmed case in the United States (in Chicago). It is also suspected in several other countries.

The death rate from the virus is between 2 and 4 percent, which is slightly higher than a bad year for the flu virus in the U.S. All the deaths have been in China.

The good news is that world health leaders are taking the potential risks seriously. Thanks to better information-sharing among government agencies, they also are in a much better position to track the spread of the virus than in the past.

I am reassured by the actions of the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and state agencies such as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. I want our members to know that business and clinical leaders at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina are in regular contact with state government and health officials on this issue.

2. Is there anything people can do to protect themselves against the coronavirus? 

The basic principles to reduce the general risk of spreading any acute respiratory infections, including coronavirus — and the flu — include avoiding close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections. 

Frequent handwashing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment, is critical. Also, people with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette: maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing — and, once again, wash hands. I want to remind people that we are in the middle of flu season, so these actions should be done routinely. And, for those who haven’t gotten a flu shot, get one! There is still time to benefit from its protection.

Also, remain aware. Go to reliable sources of information, as this is a frequently changing event.

3. If people want more information about the status of the outbreak, where should they go to get reliable information?

The CDC website and the SCDHEC website are great sources of current and user-friendly information on this topic.

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