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Why you shouldn't immediately go to the ER when sick if coronavirus pandemic develops

Stay at home and call your doctor, says DC Health Department Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt who is working to prepare the public in case a pandemic develops.

WASHINGTON — Should a coronavirus pandemic develop in the District, heading to the emergency room if you're sick should not be your first step. 

D.C. residents who fear being infected by the coronavirus should instead call their doctor and receive instructions on how to proceed, according to District of Columbia Health Department Director LaQuandra Nesbitt.

"It is important for them to call their health care provider before showing up in the office," Nesbitt said. "They have the potential to expose other individuals."

The exception would be for clear life-threatening emergencies such as struggling to breathe or becoming unresponsive.

Nesbitt said urgent care centers, doctors' offices and hospitals will need to be prepared to make assessments by phone and if a visit is recommended, facilities will need to have measures in place to isolate incoming suspect cases.

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"Everything begins with an interview," Nesbitt said.

The doctor added that residents should begin to prepare for the possibility of taking care of themselves or others at home.

"We want the public to understand that it's important to always have adequate supplies of the medications that you take on a day-to-day basis," Nesbitt said.

She recommends that parents have medications on hand at home that treat common cold and flu symptoms such as fever and a lack of fluids.

"Those are the type of things that we want people to have in their home kit," Nesbitt said.

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According to Nesbitt, no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the District.

Five individuals with suspect symptoms and histories, such as travel, have been tested in the District so far, but all of the tests were negative.

Nesbitt said health officials in the District will have coronavirus test kits available in the city for the first time within the coming days. Previously, authorities had been sending suspect samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control labratories in Atlanta, Ga.

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