COVID-19 and Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new strain within the well-known family of coronaviruses. It has only been known to cause human illness since December 2019. Other coronaviruses are known to cause the common cold and other more serious and less common illnesses. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms can come on quickly and can range from mild to severe illness and death. It is important for high-risk individuals to take steps to prevent catching the illness. People with cancer, older adults as well as people with chronic heart disease, lung disease and diabetes seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness.
Are cancer patients at higher risk from COVID-19 infections?
We are just starting to understand COVID-19 specifically, but other viruses in the corona family often cause more severe illness in people whose immune systems are low, such as cancer patients undergoing treatment.
People with cancer often have weakened immune systems, which make it harder for their bodies to fight off infections like the flu or COVID-19. Patients who are in active treatment, those who have undergone bone marrow transplants and those who have blood cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma may be at higher risk from COVID-19. Patients who are no longer in treatment may still want to be extra cautious as well.
Here are some answers to some common questions about COVID-19 and what you can do.
How can I protect myself from COVID-19?
Everyone is encouraged to take the following steps to stay healthy:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And when you are sick, stay home.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper arm. Immediately wash your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, light switches, toilets, faucets and sinks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that anyone who is at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 should:
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible.
- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
- During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
Should I wear a mask?
According to the CDC, if you are NOT sick, you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask).
If you are sick, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
What do I do if I feel like I’m developing symptoms?
Call ahead before visiting your doctor’s office or Urgent Care/Emergency Department and let them know about your symptoms.
Get medical attention immediately if you have any of these emergency warning signs:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
If you are unsure of what to do, contact the UR Medicine COVID-19 support line at 1-888-928-0011.
Should I cancel my appointment at Wilmot?
If you have concerns about whether or not to come in, contact your care team by phone or through MyChart, or call our Nurse Triage Line at 585-275-5823 to talk about your appointment.
Please call your care team before an upcoming appointment if you have:
- Cough, fever, body aches or sore throat
- Traveled in the last 14 days
- Been in contact with someone who has COVID-19
Is Wilmot screening patients and visitors?
Yes, patients and visitors are being screened when they enter our facilities by asking if they have a fever, cough, body aches or sore throat; if they have traveled in the last 14 days; or if they have been in contact with anyone who has had COVID-19.
It is extremely important that you be honest in answering these screening questions, especially if you have any of these symptoms. We will help you get the care you need.
If you or anyone in your household has these symptoms or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, please contact your care team before you come in for your appointment.
Can I still bring someone with me to my appointment?
To help protect our patients, we have restricted the number of visitors patients can bring:
- Patients coming for an outpatient visit may bring one support person. This includes appointments for treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- For inpatient units and in our infusion center, we have put a zero-visitor policy in place, following advice of the Monroe County Department of Health.
We are screening all who come to our facilities. Please be honest in answering our questions about fever, cough, sore throat and body aches. It is extremely important that you let us know if you have any of these symptoms. We will help you get the care you need.
Are support groups and activities at the Integrative Oncology & Wellness Center still available?
For the safety of our patients, we have decided to temporarily suspend all support groups and group supportive activities at Wilmot Cancer Institute. At this time, we do not know when these activities will be re-established, but we will keep you updated when we know more.
If you have questions related to community support resources or online support groups that you can use in the meantime, please contact Wilmot’s Community Resource Line at (585) 276-4708 or email WilmotCommunityResHelp@urmc.rochester.edu.
Where can I learn more?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has up-to-date and reliable information about COVID-19 and the precautions we should all take: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
UR Medicine also has local information: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/coronavirus
Our colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have additional information for people with cancer: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2020/03/coronavirus-what-cancer-patients-need-to-know.html
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