Frequently Asked Questions

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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Patients should wear face coverings while in the facility until instructed otherwise, which includes when in public areas such as hallways and being transported for tests and therapy. Patients can remove face coverings when alone in their rooms, but should put their mask on when health care workers enter the room, whenever possible. If you do not have your own face covering, you will be given an mask and instructed how to reuse it over the course of the day. If wearing a hospital-provided mask, you should receive a new mask daily. If wearing your own cloth mask and utilizing proper hand hygiene, cloth masks are able to be worn until visibly soiled or damaged. Find complete care recommendations for cloth masks here.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and generally include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Other symptoms are chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste and smell. They usually appear around five days after exposure to someone infected with the virus, but could occur up to 14 days after an exposure.

Some people infected with the virus will experience pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and in some cases death.

The virus is mainly transmitted between people who are in close contact with each other (within 6 feet or less) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may also be possible to get the disease by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease are at a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

There are many strains of coronavirus. Most coronaviruses cause mild illnesses, like the common cold. If you test positive for a common coronavirus at your hospital or doctor’s office lab, that’s not the same thing as COVID-19. Your provider will be able to differentiate between the two if you have any questions.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Avoid crowds as much as possible, keep space between yourself and others, and avoid contact with anyone who is sick.

Infants and children under age two should never wear a mask, as it poses a suffocation risk.

Our hospitals follow an infection prevention plan that has been built upon years of experience treating infectious diseases.

  • We are limiting visitors, with some exceptions. We screen patients and visitor exceptions arriving at any BJC hospital for their travel history and symptoms. All visitors are expected to wear a mask.
  • All employees are required to wear a mask, and must complete an access screening before entering work each day.
  • We provide a private exam room to patients who are exhibiting symptoms seen with COVID19 that isolates the patient from others.
  • Patients are required to wear masks throughout our hospital buildings.
  • Caregivers or individuals wear protective clothing—such as a mask or gown—before entering the room of a patient with potential or confirmed COVID-19 virus.
  • All nurses and caregivers have been trained on the proper use of their protective clothing and steps around the isolation of the patient.

If a patient is experiencing symptoms, we follow up with an additional screening. If a patient’s symptoms are not severe and do not require hospital care, the recommendation from the health department for potential or confirmed coronavirus patients is to remain at home to reduce exposure in the community. Those with severe symptoms would be hospitalized in isolation.

Any individuals suspected of the disease are isolated from other patients, visitors and staff. All employees are required to complete a work entry screening prior to their shift.

In order not to overwhelm the care needed for critically ill patients, people who suspect they might have COVID-19 and are exhibiting symptoms should call the office of their health care provider. They will give you instructions on how to get care, if needed, without exposing other people to your illness. When sick, avoid contact with people, don’t go out, and delay any travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.

Our emergency department is open to patients needing any kind of emergency care. Patients may be triaged to different waiting rooms based on their symptoms.

We are not canceling any surgeries, but always look at our schedules, patient volume and resources as part of our normal operations. All urgent, clinically necessary and time-sensitive surgeries will continue for our patients. Elective surgeries at some of our hospitals that can safely be delayed may be scheduled at a later date to help ensure we can continue to serve all who turn to us for care. Talk to your doctor's office if you're scheduling a surgical procedure.

BJC HealthCare has a limited visitor policy in place. View the complete policy here.

In general, masks are made of porous materials that dry quickly. If your mask becomes noticeably moist, you should obtain a new mask. Notably, no increase in bacterial respiratory infections caused by masks has ever been reported in health care providers, construction workers or surgeons who all wear masks on a daily basis to protect themselves during their workdays.

 No, following recommendations for social distancing in order not to spread the virus, no additional family member or friends are allowed in the facility.

The likelihood of that happening is very small, but we do expect visitors and patients to practice good hand hygiene and observe policies in place around social distancing and wearing masks to help prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, if we suspect a patient has COVID-19, but their symptoms are not severe and do not require hospitalization, they will be sent home to await test results and recover.  Any individuals suspected of the disease are isolated from other patients, visitors and staff.

Yes. BJC has the same expectations for non-employees as they do for their employees. For contractors or contingent workers embedded in our facilities, we are treating them the same as our employees regarding requirements of wearing masks, completing screening procedures, etc.

There have been some cases of children developing COVID-19. However, children tend to experience milder symptoms, with a small number having severe complications. Children with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe illness.

Vaccines against pneumonia do not protect against any coronavirus pneumonia, including pneumonia that may be part of COVID-19. However, they are still highly recommended to protect against other respiratory illnesses.

At present, there is no evidence that pets can spread coronavirus (COVID-19) to humans.

Shortness of breath refers to unexpectedly feeling out of breath, or winded. You could feel a tightness in your chest, feel hungry for air and be unable to breathe deeply. If you are having trouble getting air, you should call your physician, as it could be a symptom of several things including COVID-19.  If you are having a medical emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.

It is thought that the virus likely would not survive such a trip. Coronaviruses are most likely to be transmitted through respiratory droplets. There is no current evidence to support transmission of the virus associated with imported goods.  People can protect themselves through proper handwashing.

Yes. Symptoms of COVID-19 usually show up from two to 14 days after exposure, but some people who are infected do not develop symptoms and do not feel ill.

As patients recover from the disease, researchers are exploring this question, but it may be some time before we know the answer.

Although some lab studies have begun, results are not conclusive in the studies or for real-world situations. While some of the lab studies indicate viral particles may be present on surfaces hours or days later, these studies are being conducted under very controlled circumstances in a laboratory environment.

What we do know with certainty is that respiratory droplets play a much larger role in disease transmission. The best protection against COVID-19 remains:

  • Frequent proper handwashing, especially before and after handling used masks
  • Not touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes
  • Clean surfaces that are touched regularly
  • Practice social distancing
  • Discard masks if damaged or unable to cover nose and mouth

The out-of-pocket cost for a patient without health insurance for their COVID-19 test is $77. There is also a collection test charge of $33. If further care is needed, additional costs would apply.

This change is in response to increasing recognition of the potential risk of transmission with minimal or mild symptoms. BJC has adopted a policy that all employees and any visitors must wear masks.  Evidence continues to indicate that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs from symptomatic patients. However, due to the potential for transmission when patients are not yet showing or recognizing symptoms, masking may help provide protection to employees from pre-symptomatic patients, and to patients from pre-symptomatic employees. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently made a recommendation that citizens should wear "non-medical, cloth masks" when it is essential to be in public places to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Cloth masks, such as the type fashioned at home, can help protect others nearby. Medical and surgical masks should be saved for use by health care personnel. For more on how to make and wear a cloth mask, visit the CDC website.

Infants and children under age 2 should never wear a face mask, as it poses a suffocation risk.

BJC HealthCare’s visitor restrictions are not related to local community stay-home ordinances. BJC hospitals and health service organizations are limiting visitors due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the community, which is expected to continue over the coming months. Our restrictions are designed to protect patients, their families, and our staff and providers by further limiting the risk of exposure.   

We recognize the importance of family and friends to our patients and regret the inconvenience these temporary restrictions may cause you. We continue to encourage and will help facilitate virtual visits whenever we can. We will continue to evaluate this policy regularly. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding during these difficult times.

Visitors must remain in the patient’s room for duration of visit.  Some hospitals may allow temporary exceptions to visit cafeteria, chapel, restroom, etc., provided visitors return to the patient's room directly. Please check with your local care team at the hospital for specific instructions. In all cases, visitors must notify the care team when leaving and returning to the unit.

If they have a test pending, the visitor should wait until the test is resulted prior to entering the facility. If the test results are negative and the visitor remains asymptomatic, they may enter the facility while wearing a mask or cloth face covering.

Questions about masks

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Yes. BJC facilities require all patients and visitors to wear a face covering when entering the facility, and continue to wear it while in the facility unless instructed otherwise. If you don’t have a mask already, you will be provided with one.

Children under age two, patients who have difficulty breathing, or patients who are unable to remove their own mask without assistance should not wear a mask. Social distancing should be maintained.

The mask is used to reduce community spread of COVID-19. It will protect others from COVID-19 in case you are infected. Many people with COVID-19 have no symptoms. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could spread COVID-19 to others.

Masks can be homemade, in almost any format or style available. It should cover the nose and mouth and allow you to breathe comfortably and should not have a one-way valve. If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, you will be provided a medical-grade isolation mask.

Yes. As long as the mask covers your nose and mouth, you can wear your own mask.

You are encouraged to wear your own mask when coming to a BJC facility. If you don’t have a mask, you will be provided with one.

Yes, social distancing is also used to reduce spread of COVID-19 and prevent transmission. A face mask is not a substitute for social distancing.

You should wear a mask at all times throughout the building to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Unless you are bringing your child to been seen by a healthcare provider, children should remain at home if possible. Current visitor policies restrict children under 16 from entering. If your child is with you and is 2 years old or older, they should wear a cloth face mask. The mask should fit over the nose and mouth and allow the child to breathe comfortably. A child wearing a mask should always be monitored; if the child has difficulty breathing with the face covering, it should be removed immediately.

Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask. Healthcare providers, team members, and visitors in the hospital are required to wear masks to protect those who cannot wear a mask. Frequent hand hygiene and social distancing (>6) feet from others is strongly recommended to protect yourself and your children. An infant in a baby carrier may benefit from having a lightweight cloth or blanket draped over the carrier. An infant should always be monitored, and care taken to ensure the infant can breathe comfortably.

No. Surgical and isolation masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers caring for sick patients. A cloth mask will decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Yes. It is not yet known if a person is immune to getting COVID-19 again after being infected, so a mask will help protect others in case you become infected again.

Yes. Wearing a mask will help protect others in case you became infected since your test or if you are infected and your test did not show COVID-19.

Carbon dioxide is the gas you breathe out from your lungs when you exhale. We all breathe in small amounts of carbon dioxide each time we take a breath, with or without a mask. Masks allow the exhaled carbon dioxide to pass through in the same manner oxygen is pulled in through the mask when we take in a breath. While medical-grade masks and cloth masks allow this gas exchange to occur, plastic and other non-porous materials can prevent this exchange of gases and put the user at risk of breathing difficulties or even suffocation. It is very important that cloth and medical-grade masks be worn, as opposed to masks made of other materials. If at any time your mask becomes difficult to breathe through or noticeably moist, you should remove the mask and obtain a new mask to help ensure good air exchange.

Visitors who are permitted under the exceptions to our visitor restriction policy are required to wear masks. If they do not have a mask, they will be provided one. They will not be permitted into our buildings without a mask.

We certainly respect your rights. It is our responsibility as health care providers to ensure the safest possible environment for all our patients, visitors and staff. This means an environment where important measures are taken to reduce transmission of the virus. There is evidence proving that wearing masks protects against COVID-19 and other disease transmission. Universal masking – or having everyone wear masks in public places – is currently recommended by the CDC, the Department of Health and all major health, science and government authorities. For everybody’s safety, masking is a requirement of all patients, visitors and staff who enter our building. Thank you for understanding, as this was designed with the best interests of our patients, visitors and staff in mind.

Patients should wear face coverings while in the facility until instructed otherwise, which includes when in public areas such as hallways and being transported for tests and therapy. Patients can remove face coverings when alone in their rooms, but should put their mask on when health care workers enter the room, whenever possible. If you do not have your own face covering, you will be given an mask and instructed how to reuse it over the course of the day. If wearing a hospital-provided mask, you should receive a new mask daily. If wearing your own cloth mask and utilizing proper hand hygiene, cloth masks are able to be worn until visibly soiled or damaged. Find complete care recommendations for cloth masks here.

Questions about Antibody Testing (Serology)

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Serology tests detect the body’s immune response to an infection, such as COVID-19. The test does not detect the virus itself. Serology tests cannot be used to diagnose active infections with COVID-19.

Swab tests are used to evaluate for an active COVID-19 infection. Swab testing involves collecting a nasal, nasopharyngeal, or throat sample to check for current infection. Serology tests look for evidence that you have already had an infection and are performed by collecting a blood sample.

COVID-19 is a new disease requiring the development of new tests. Although there are many different serology tests available, not all of these tests have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if they work well.

There is no clear indication for the use of a serology test. In the early days of an infection, when the body’s immune response is still building, antibodies may not be present in detectable levels. Therefore, serology tests cannot be used to diagnose an active infection. Serology tests cannot be used to determine when individuals may return to work. Additionally, a positive test does not mean that an individual is immune from getting infected with COVID-19 in the future. If you have symptoms concerning for COVID-19, you should consult with your primary care physician for evaluation.

Interpreting a positive test is difficult because the performance of most serology tests is unknown. A false positive result may occur due to the test detecting other similar viruses. Additionally, a positive test result does not mean that you are immune to future infections with COVID-19. Negative results can also occur if individuals are tested before the immune system has had enough time to mount a response to the infection.