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Infectious Disease specialist updates Direct Relief on COVID-19 and the coronavirus

GOLETA, Calif. - Direct Relief (DR) received an in-depth briefing Thursday on the coronavirus by Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an Infectious Disease specialist at Cottage Hospital and a member of DR's Medical Advisory Council.

"This really began probably late 2019 in Wuhan, China," Fitzgibbons said. 

Dozens of DR employees attended her hour-long talk. She said in her opinion, "everything changed last Wednesday night."

"That was the evening we found out that a patient who had not traveled and had not been exposed to anyone who was known to have disease, we found out that patient at UC Davis Medial Center had this infection."

That patient, an elderly adult with underlying health conditions, died Tuesday.

Fitzgibbons rotated through a series of large graphics depicting numbers and maps highlighting the spread of the coronavirus, worldwide. She said earlier in the week while she was preparing her information, the U.S. had 125 confirmed cases; after 30 hours that number jumped to 177. By Thursday night, following our broadcast, that number had risen to 233.

She called the numbers that global health experts are seeing "the tip of the iceberg."

"I'm not here to terrorize you. I want to empower you," she told the audience.

Fitzgibbons talked about incubation, prevention and, testing. She also confirmed that there is no current treatment or vaccine.

"What we can do is give them (patients) the best possible supportive care to get their body through that severe complicated infection. We have to make sure we have ICU beds. We have to make sure we have intravenous fluids. We have to make sure that we have the antibiotics that the patient might need if they get that secondary bacterial infection."

Fitzgibbons praised the DR staff for the work they're doing globally to help fight this outbreak and stressed that they've got their work cut out for them.

Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of DR, opened and closed the session, and detailed the types of supplies DR has sent to Wuhan, China and purchased for other global and local needs. 

"DR has committed two million dollars to coronavirus supplies," Tighe said. 

That included oxygen concentrators, made by Inogen Inc. in Goleta. 

Fitzgibbons pointed out that the breathing equipment is another key medical device to help people needing oxygen after getting through the worst of the coronavirus symptoms. 

Fitzgibbons shared estimated recovery time for most patients.

 "A couple of weeks. Those with severe disease are taking closer to a month," she said. 

Fitzgibbons said she is cautiously optimistic that months from now, the majority of the coronavirus cases will be mild to moderate, with fewer casualty cases. She shared that Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard is one of the best go-to websites for great information, collected worldwide, that gives realtime numbers:

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.