COVID-101: The Basics of Preventing the Spread of COVID-19

Your health is our priority. It always has been, and always will be. In the current COVID-19 health crisis, it is more important than ever that we recognize this responsibility, and we want you to know how we are protecting you and your loved ones, while trying to provide the best ENT and allergy care in Northern California.

During the national shut down earlier this year, SacENT providers served in leadership and advisory capacities to local hospitals, regional medical organizations, and national and international medical specialty societies to help any way we can to combat COVID-19. We are confident we are doing it right, but also understand “right” today could change tomorrow. Below, you’ll find updates on what we are doing and why we are doing it to protect your health.

Our overall strategy is to keep COVID-19 out of our treatment offices. If the virus isn’t there, you cannot get it. We absolutely understand that we have a role in treatment of the COVID-infected patient, but that treatment is best delivered in high-risk facilities like urgent care centers, emergency departments and hospitals.

Our strategy is not magical. It is not hopeful. It is based on the best science available. The risk of spreading COVID-19 is based on hygiene, proximity (distance), time, activity and level of personal protective equipment, also known as PPE.

How do we keep it out? Very simply—we don’t let it in. Who can carry it in? Anybody.

Everyone who enters our treatment facilities has to pass pre-screening questionnaires surveys and temperature checks. Obviously, this includes our patients, all employees and all of our providers. Anyone coming into our office to deliver packages—even sales reps coming to speak to our doctors—need to be screened.

We also limit who comes in. That means no one is allowed to come with you unless they are your parent or caregiver. That means healthy adults come in alone. Children come in with one parent only. The time where it is safe to bring additional family members because of convenience or curiosity is not now.

Hygiene: Our waiting rooms and clinic exam rooms may look empty. We have removed items that can be touched and put down by others. We regularly clean all surfaces, with particular attention to the exam room. This is where you will spend the most time in the office. We rotate use of rooms to allow for the settling of airborne particulate materials. We periodically close rooms for up to a half hour if we perform airway procedures, or if there is unprotected coughing or sneezing. We use gloves and have hand sanitizers in every room.

Distance: Telehealth puts the most distance between a patient and provider, and when you think about it, there really is no way to get infected during a telehealth visit. Our providers are more than happy to conduct telehealth visits and, in some cases, it is extremely appropriate. Patients who drive long distances for test results are a great example.

If an office visit is scheduled, we have reduced office schedules and have text messaging with our patients to keep our waiting rooms as empty as possible. You will not encounter crowds in our offices. In order to keep up with the demand, in some cases, we are working through lunch hours and extending office hours to accommodate the needs of our patients.

In our offices, we are disappointed we can no longer greet you with a hug or a handshake. These are different times, but we think everyone understands we have to connect to others through words and through eye contact. Such is why your provider may stand at a distance during your office visit until a very detailed, but limited, physical exam is conducted.

Time: Once again, it stands to reason that the shorter the time spent face-to-face, the safer the situation is as it relates to COVID-19. Expect appointments to be efficient—it is in everyone’s interest to maximize distance and minimize time in face-to-face appointments.

Activity: We know the virus spreads either through direct contact from animate or inanimate surfaces and also primarily through the air. As such, we use masks at all times, except when needed during examination of the mouth, nose and throat. As mentioned earlier, we use gloves or disinfect hands before and after touching patients and instruments.

We do have procedures in our offices that we offer patients. That includes administration of shots, diagnostic ear, nose and throat procedures, and office-based surgeries of the ears, nose and throat. Since the virus does reside in the respiratory tract, what we do can be considered an aerosol-generating procedure.

What you may notice is that we do take additional measures of precaution as the risk of generating COVID-19 droplets increases. This includes disinfecting all surfaces, and the employment of HEPA filter units and UV sterilization measures, to decontaminate both air and surfaces in a room before bringing another patient in.

PPE: Our management and administrative teams have done their best to provide our staff with adequate personal protective equipment. This includes the availability of cleaning materials and disinfectants, gloves, masks, gowns and face shields. While no one knows exactly how much of anything we currently need or will need, we also realize we have to be responsible in acquiring what we need without being hoarders, which denies others access to this valuable protective equipment.

Many of our offices have UV sterilization equipment, which is shown to be very effective at killing the coronavirus. Our physicians have a high level of knowledge in how the virus can be trapped by various filters and filter materials. We use appropriate masks at appropriate times and filter the circulating air with HEPA-grade filters.

We continually discuss the importance of minimizing the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 with our staff. Break room activities are minimized by staggering breaks and limiting the number of people in the room at any one time.

We understand the need to act responsibly and hope our efforts keep you safe from COVID-19 while being able to care for your health needs. We encourage you to ask questions of your providers. Stay healthy!