April 1 Coronavirus Update
We continue to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to proactively ensure our patients and workforce remain safe and protected. MD Anderson is asking patients about their recent travel history, exposure, and if they exhibit symptoms of respiratory infection or illness, including:
- Fever greater than 100.4º F/38º C
- Sore throat
- Coughing, or
- Shortness of breath
Patients and caregivers with questions or concerns should contact your care team via MyChart message or phone call. Outside of business hours, please call: 1-877-564-1202.
What patients and caregivers need to know before they arrive
We are open for patient care, with some restrictions in place. If you have fever or symptoms of COVID-19, contact your care team before your appointment.
MD Anderson is screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms at entrances to all of our campuses.
Patients may enter at the following locations on our Texas Medical Center campus:
- Main Building, The Pavilion valet entrance
- Main Building, The Aquarium valet entrance
- Main Building, Garage 10, Floor 3 skybridge
- Mays Clinic, East Lobby valet entrance
- Faculty Center, Floor 3, near Garage 17 entrance
Employees are being screened at separate designated entrances.
We are requiring self-quarantine for new patients traveling from any location outside of Texas. The quarantine may occur at patients’ homes, with daily monitoring by our staff. New patients who have been approved to travel to MD Anderson will be provided an authorization letter for travel and will be tested by us for COVID-19, prior to their first appointment.
Our clinical teams are working with current, out-of-state patients to determine appropriate options for care, whether that means delaying the appointment at MD Anderson, virtual visits, local care coordination or, if necessary, travel to MD Anderson for appointments and treatment. We will try to reduce the number of visits to Houston to keep our patients safe since traveling increases the risk of infection. In addition, we recommend all patients and their families self-isolate as much as possible for their protection.
All patients will receive a MyChart questionnaire four days prior to their scheduled appointments to ask about travel outside Texas, symptoms, exposures, and local COVID-19 testing.
If you have specific questions related to upcoming appointments or procedures, we encourage you to contact your care team via MyChart. For general questions, our askMDAnderson health information specialists may be reached at 1-877-564-1202.
We no longer allow visitors on any of our campuses.
There will be special circumstances when a single adult visitor will need to accompany a patient.
Limited exceptions for outpatient care include: Pediatric patients, and adult patients with neurocognitive issues and/or who are unable to consent for themselves.
Limited exceptions for inpatient care: Pediatric patients; imminent end-of-life patients based on the clinical team’s assessment; visitors who are already serving in a constant care capacity and who have been at MD Anderson’s inpatient hospital since before the new policy begins; patients with cognitive and physical frailties as submitted by attending physician and nursing.
Visitors authorized to remain must be willing to participate in daily screenings for COVID-19 and to shelter in place and keep a constant presence.
View a map of patient drop-off and pick-up locations, as well as temporary, free “cell phone” garages for caregivers.
Arrangements have been made for the safe discharge of surgery and same-day procedure patients. Read more about these arrangements.
We know the important role that support systems play in our patients’ lives. Loved ones are an integral part of the care team. That is why we are committed to ensuring additional support during this time.
- We have additional employees on-site to help our patients travel between appointments.
- We encourage patients to bring smart devices to connect with their loved ones by phone or video conference. Get tips here.
Faster medication pickup
Our outpatient pharmacy team has new processes to help our patients and ensure we’re limiting the number of people who come on campus.
For patients and visitors who aren’t allowed inside, the pharmacy now offers curbside medication pickup at the Texas Medical Center Campus at the following locations:
- Main Building: The Pavilion entrance during the week, The Aquarium entrance on the weekend
- Mays Clinic: Mays Clinic Valet
- Rotary House: near the Garage 17 entrance
Patients must call ahead, and the team accepts payment by phone prior to pickup. They should call the pharmacy if they have questions about this process.
For inpatients, our pharmacy team is delivering their medications at the bedside so patients have what they need before they are discharged.
Additional precautions have been implemented to protect our patients who are uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus disease. These include:
- Making changes to our workforce. Employees whose presence on campus is not deemed essential are working remotely, as determined by local managers.
- Limiting work meetings and social gatherings. Campus events intended for large audiences are canceled or postponed. Learn more about how MD Anderson is following social distancing recommendations.
- Canceling all business travel, domestic and international.
- Canceling all volunteer shifts. All MD Anderson volunteer shifts are canceled until further notice.
In addition, the institution is cancelling Community Relations participation at educational events, like health fairs.
Protection against respiratory illnesses
Our experts say you can protect yourself from respiratory infections by:
- Refraining from touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using an antiseptic hand gel.
- Avoiding crowded areas and sick people.
Some cancer patients take medications that suppress their immune systems as a part of their treatment. That makes them more susceptible to infections, such as the flu or 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Washing your hands properly and often, avoiding touching your face and other simple strategies can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases.
But what COVID-19 symptoms should cancer patients and their caregivers be on the lookout for? When do cancer patients need to be screened for COVID-19, and what does that screening process look like? And, in what cases do cancer patients need to be tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus?
We spoke with infectious diseases and infection control specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D., to learn more.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19, and how do they differ from those of a cold or the flu?
Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the most commonly reported symptoms. Sore throat has also been associated with this coronavirus. These symptoms are very similar to those associated with the flu or the common cold.
So, how would I know if I have COVID-19 or something else?
It really all depends on your exposure.
You are only at risk of catching COVID-19 if you’ve traveled recently to an area where documented cases have been reported, or if you’ve been around someone who may have the virus.
How quickly could I develop symptoms after exposure to the virus?
It may take up to 14 days before COVID-19 symptoms appear.
As a cancer patient, when do I need to be tested for COVID-19?
Right now, it all hinges on whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms. If you have a fever, a cough, a runny nose or are feeling short of breath, contact someone on your MD Anderson care team right away. They will ask screening questions to determine whether or not you should be tested for COVID-19, and provide guidance on what to do next, based on your particular situation.
If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, it is imperative that you call ahead before coming to MD Anderson. That way, our staff can adequately prepare for your arrival. This will allow us to protect both our staff and our patients from possible exposure.
What happens during a COVID-19 screening? When do I need to be tested for COVID-19?
First, we’ll screen you to determine if testing is needed. When you get to an MD Anderson building entry point, a public safety officer will ask you some questions, such as if you’ve been traveling recently, where and when you went, and how long you stayed there. They will also ask you if you’ve been around anyone else who has traveled to high-risk areas, or come into close contact with someone who is known to have the virus.
Next, they will take your vital signs, including your temperature, to determine if you have a fever. They will also ask if you’ve been coughing, felt short of breath, or shown any other symptoms. Based on that, they’ll determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
What is COVID-19 testing like?
A cotton swab (like a Q-tip, but with a very long stick) will be inserted into your nose to obtain a sample of mucus from the sinus cavity, and another swab will be inserted in your mouth (like a strep test) to take a sample from your throat. Neither swab should hurt, but they might be uncomfortable enough to trigger a cough or a gag reflex.
The mucus samples will be sent off to a lab. Your doctor’s office will call to let you know the results.
If you get screened at MD Anderson, you will also be tested for 21 other pathogens, including rhinoviruses, three types of flu, and other common coronaviruses, such as those which cause colds.
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
If you’re an MD Anderson patient and undergo testing here, you will be contacted by someone from Infection Control at MD Anderson and the City of Houston Health Department with instructions on what to do next.
If you are sick enough, you may be admitted to the hospital.
What should I do if I test negative for COVID-19?
Follow the advice of your doctor or care team. Get plenty of rest and fluids, and contact your care team if you have any questions.
Learn more about precautions MD Anderson is taking to protect our patients and workforce members from the coronavirus.
Editor's note: This article was last updated on April 1, 2020.
The 2019 novel coronavirus disease – also known as COVID-19 – has introduced many new terms to our vocabulary: from “social distancing” to “community spread.” But what exactly do these words mean?
What’s the difference between an “outbreak,” an “epidemic” and a “pandemic”? What about “self-isolation” and “self-quarantine”? And what does “flattening the curve” mean?
We spoke with our infectious diseases and infection control specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D. Here are the words he wants everyone to know.
Asymptomatic: not showing any signs of illness. The most common COVID-19 symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but you can still be contagious without showing any symptoms.
Community spread: Used when the source of someone’s coronavirus infection is unknown. In the case of COVID-19, this means it was not due to recent travel to a high-risk area, or exposure to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Contagious: Communicable, or able to be passed from one person to another. COVID-19 is thought to be spread primarily through direct contact with an infected individual, by inhaling the microscopic droplets sprayed into the air during a cough or sneeze, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth.
Coronavirus: A type of microscopic organism that causes illness in humans. “Corona” alludes to the tiny spikes found on the surface of the virus, which scientists thought resembled a crown, when seen through a microscope.
COVID-19: A shorthand way of referring to the novel COrona VIrus Disease, an upper respiratory infection that was first identified in 2019. The germ that causes it is formally known as SARS-CoV-2.
Epidemic: A cluster of outbreaks that have spread from one geographical area to others; also see related terms, “pandemic” and “outbreak.”
Flattening the curve: An attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus and prevent a dramatic increase in the number of infected individuals. By practicing social distancing, avoiding unnecessary travel, and taking basic precautions, healthy individuals can help slow the spread of the disease — or “flatten the curve.”
Incubation period: The amount of time it takes for an infected person to start showing symptoms of illness after exposure. In the case of coronavirus, the incubation period is thought to be between two days and two weeks, with the average being five days before symptoms start to appear.
Outbreak: A sudden increase in the number of cases of a particular disease in a relatively small geographical area. COVID-19 is thought to have originated in the Hubei Province in China. Also see related terms, “epidemic” and “pandemic.”
Pandemic: The worldwide spread of a new contagious disease that has infected a large number of people. The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Also see related terms, “epidemic” and outbreak.”
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that could cause workplace illness or injury.
Quarantine: The practice of isolating people who appear healthy, but may have been exposed to a contagious disease, such as COVID-19. Quarantines can be self-imposed or government mandated.
Screening: A basic series of questions posed by medical personnel to determine if someone should be tested for a particular disease or condition. In the case of coronavirus, screening may include taking your temperature, and questions about possible exposure to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Self-isolation: The practice of separating someone who is sick from healthy individuals to prevent the spread of disease. Strategies include confining oneself to a single room/bathroom during the recovery period and not going out in public until the danger of transmission has passed.
Self-quarantine: The practice of isolating yourself from others until it is considered safe to return to public life. In the case of COVID-19, people who suspect they might have been exposed to the virus should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Shelter-in-place: The definition of this term can vary, but in the COVID-19 context, it generally means staying home except to buy essentials such as food, gas or medicine, and minimizing contact with people outside of your immediate household.
Social distancing: The practice of staying at least six feet away from other people, avoiding crowds and gatherings, and limiting or cancelling all unnecessary travel to reduce the spread of disease.
State of emergency: A legal designation that allows civic leaders to request and obtain certain types of financial aid from the government, and take certain actions to protect the public.
Suspected COVID-19: Refers to a patient who is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and is currently awaiting test results.
Symptom: Any visible sign of illness that can indicate someone has been infected by a particular pathogen. Typical COVID-19 symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Testing: The practice of using blood, urine, saliva, mucus or some other bodily fluid to determine if someone either has a specific condition or has been exposed to a particular infectious disease. In the case of COVID-19, patients must first undergo screening to determine if they need to be tested.
“It’s really important to learn and understand terms like these, especially when they’re related to a public health threat,” Chemaly says. “After all, if you don’t even know what ‘social distancing’ really means, how can you be expected to do it?”
Learn more about COVID-19 and precautions MD Anderson is taking.
When I was undergoing treatment for colorectal cancer about eight years ago, it was really important that I stay away from other people, especially large groups. The chemotherapy drugs I was on made me more susceptible to infections, so I was already in the hospital quite a bit. I got bladder infections, kidney infections, you name it. I even got the MRSA “superbug” once.
But I was still so tired at that point that I was fine with going to bed at 8:30 every night and only getting to visit with small groups of family and close friends. I didn’t feel isolated because I was recovering. And, once my treatment was over, I was back to go, go, go. I was always busy and never at home.
Then came the 2019 novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Social distancing has hit me really hard. I’m a very social person, so I’m not good at being alone. But, I have found a few ways to bring myself some peace of mind, even when I’m on my own. Here are four of them.
Taking sensible steps to protect myself
I’m already at a higher risk of contracting contagious diseases because of everything I’ve been through. If there’s something going around, I’m usually the first person to catch it. So, I was already taking sensible precautions like washing my hands frequently in my day-to-day life.
But if I were to get COVID-19, it would be very, very difficult. Some of the long-term effects of cancer treatment already make it harder for my body to fight off an infection. I have asthma, too, so that’s a double-whammy. That’s why I do everything the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends — and then some.
For instance, I’ve been avoiding people. I started working from home as soon as this virus became a pandemic. Now, if I go out for a walk, it is just around my block a few times, avoiding any and all people. If I have to go somewhere else, I wear gloves and a mask, and bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer with me.
I get my groceries delivered, and I wipe down all the containers before putting them away. When I get restaurant food delivered, I take it out of the original packaging and reheat it in the microwave. Because of the advice I got from another cancer survivor, I’ve even started dropping my keys in a separate bowl and disinfecting them before putting them back in my purse. I wash the clothes I left the house in as soon as I get home.
Some of these strategies may sound a bit extreme. But as a cancer survivor, I can’t be too careful. And this way, I know I’m doing absolutely everything I can to keep myself safe and healthy.
Practicing more — and better — self-care
Normally, I wouldn’t have time to do things like cook or meditate. But now, it’s like, “OK. It’s 5:30, and I’m done with work. I can’t go anywhere or do anything. So, what do I do now?”
My solution has been to go online. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the amount of free wellness support that’s available — especially to cancer survivors. I’ve done yoga classes, meditation and breathing exercises, among other things. It seems like there are activities available literally at any hour.
I’ve also been finding a lot more time to cook, which I love to do. Now, my challenge is to find recipes for the stuff I already have in my fridge or freezer. I was eating really well and working with a personal trainer before the coronavirus pandemic. So, I don’t want to eat junk. Now is not the time for me to get lazy.
One habit I haven’t changed is waking up at a normal time and putting on makeup. I feel like that’s a way of staying accountable, since I’m working from home. I feel better when I look good. And I want to look like my normal self. Besides, joining a video meeting right after rolling out of bed would not be pretty!
Deepening old relationships -- and forging new ones
One unexpected — and ironic — benefit of social distancing is that in some ways, it’s bringing me much closer to people.
I have one sister who lives in San Francisco, another who lives in New York City, and a brother, sister-in-law and niece who live in Tokyo. Before COVID-19 started, we only talked every once in a while. Now, we talk almost daily. We’re always checking in on each other.
I’ve also gotten to know some of my dance classmates better. I’ve been taking country western dance lessons for about a year. But that’s a very contact-driven hobby, so obviously, we can’t do it right now. Still, we all crave that connection, so we’ve started doing happy hours through Zoom where we play fun games to get to know each other better, and we plan to host a Zoom where we’ll line dance at our own homes. I’ve met kids and pets and gotten to know people better. It’s been really fun and an unexpected surprise.
My older friends and I have gotten creative in how we socialize, too. I had a coffee date recently via FaceTime. My friend and I sat and talked in just the same way we would’ve if we’d been at a coffee shop together. It was great — and not only because I feel less alone when I’m connecting with others. I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten up that early on a weekend, without anything to do or anywhere to go. But meeting up with her got me up early, and I worked out virtually right afterwards. That was exactly what I needed, because otherwise, I might’ve slept in. And one thing I don’t want to do is use this as an excuse to be lazy.
I’ve met some new people through online tools, too. In one, someone picks a movie and we all stream it and watch it together, and communicate silently through the app. I’ve also been seeing some new faces in MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program. After its monthly support group went online, other survivors started showing up, who maybe weren’t willing or able to come in person.
Savoring memories of good times and anticipating new ones
The last thing I’ve been doing to maintain my sanity is savoring good memories. I turned 40 on March 6, and I had a giant birthday party. Social distancing wasn’t a thing yet, so I got to see a lot of my friends. About 80 people came and celebrated with me. We had an amazing time that I will never forget.
Little did I know, that party would prove to be my own (and many other people’s) “last hurrah” — at least, for a little while. I created a scrapbook to remember it, then shared a collage and video montage of it on social media. Now, I’m imagining all the new memories I’m going to create, once this coronavirus is behind us.
Social distancing isn’t going to be over tomorrow, or even next week. And it’s easy to get depressed if you stay immersed in the news or don’t take steps to take care of yourself. But I am a very positive person, and that’s how I plan to stay. That’s why I am collecting all of these strategies now, so I will have lots of options down the road — and for as long as I need them.
Find COVID-19 resources and learn how MD Anderson is responding to the pandemic.
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