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Doctors, first responders taking extra precautions ahead of Louisiana's first coronavirus case

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BATON ROUGE - Doctors and first responders are adding extra steps to their routines to stay ahead of any potential coronavirus case in Louisiana.

Only one person has been tested for COVID-19 in the state so far. That test came back negative but health officials said that will likely change.

"Anything that's a red flag we're going to take extra precautions and try and protect ourselves,” Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Mike Chustz said.

Chustz said first responders are using extra safety measures as cases of coronavirus continue to spread around the United States.

"If someone has flu-like symptoms, we may ask them if they've been traveling. And if they have, where have they been?" Chustz said.

Those additional safety measures are on top of EMS’ usual procedures and equipment that are already in place.

"This is the protective kit, we carry six of these on every ambulance. And we have before, we didn't just add these. These come with a mask, gown, covers for your shoes, and, of course, you have gloves,” Chustz said.

But if you're not sick, or not around anyone who is sick, Doctor Catherine O'Neal, who specializes in infectious diseases at Our Lady of the Lake, said to focus less on wearing masks.

"Masks are not your best defense. Why? Because the minute I try to put on a mask I touch my face and I keep adjusting it. And that mask is dirty,” Doctor O’Neal said.

She suggests focusing more on washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces.

"After every call, everything is sprayed down. The stretcher, door handles on the ambulances. Everything we touch we try to clean and disinfect,” Chustz said.

Keeping things as sanitary as possible is just another thing on EMS’ checklist as health officials prepare for the state's first coronavirus case.

"I’m not worried but I'm expectant. I'm expectant to see a case,” Doctor O’Neal said.

Doctor O’Neal said that if you have any sort of respiratory virus, call your doctor first. She said they'll advise you on what to do next and how to do so.

She also said that people should prepare for more COVID-19 cases like they would for a hurricane. That includes making sure to have 90 days of medicine on hand, as well as food and water. 

One major difference between the coronavirus and common respiratory viruses is that there is no treatment or vaccine for coronavirus, making it easier to spread among people, according to Doctor O’Neal.

Chustz said EMS and other agencies will meet with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (GOHSEP) and the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (MOHSEP) to discuss the virus on Friday.

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