Tobey Hospital prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak

Feb 27, 2020

Covid-19, a form of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has quickly spread to more than thirty countries world-wide.

In Wareham, Tobey Hospital is working to prepare for a potential outbreak of the virus on the South Coast.

“Hand-washing is your best defense,” said Tonya Johnson, the site administrator for Tobey Hospital.

Dr. Dani Hackner, the Southcoast Chief Clinical Officer, agreed, and said that surgical masks are not a particularly effective way to avoid contracting the virus. Masks are more effective at preventing the spread of the disease from someone who is already infected.

Hand-washing is also more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t always kill viruses.

People should wash their hands frequently, especially after being in a crowded place or after touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth. It is important to wash one’s hands for at least 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

At the hospital, staff are focused on controlling the various points of entry to the building: the emergency room, main entrance, patients admitted for surgery, etc. At each point, there is clear signage matching Center for Disease Control guidelines about hygiene. Staff are also asking those who enter the building if they have traveled to China in the recent past or come into contact with someone who has.

Those in that at-risk category who are asymptomatic are encouraged to stay home. Those who think that they may have the virus and are exhibiting symptoms should come to the hospital, but should call ahead. That advance warning gives staff time to prepare an isolation room and other procedures to minimize the risk that the patient could infect others.

“Our number one priority is helping our patients and staff stay safe,” Johnson said.

Symptoms of the virus can include shortness of breath, coughing, or a high fever.

The only organization that can verify whether a patient has Covid-19 is the CDC. Currently, the only patient to be diagnosed with the virus in Massachusetts is a Boston man, who was diagnosed in early February.

Hackner said that the severity of the disease is still somewhat unknown as there isn’t much solid data. Many people who contract the virus have no symptoms or mild symptoms, but about 2 or 2.5 percent of those who have contracted the virus have died. Fatalities are often caused by pneumonia or sepsis brought on by the virus.

Hackner said that the leadership across the organization meets regularly to stay up to date on the CDC guidelines and the spread of the virus. For more information about the virus, go to