Two local physicians are encouraging patients to postpone routine, non-essential visits, implementing extra office precautions and stressing the importance of social distancing in battling the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have (postponed) patients for routine followup. We see patients who are acutely ill,” Dr. P.B. Iyer, M.D., told Mattos Newspapers last week.

The Gustine physician said he and his office staff are taking a series of precautions in light of the virus for the protection of themselves and their patients.

Those measures include wearing full protective equipment for every patient and thoroughly disinfecting exam rooms and equipment after each patient, Iyer said.

“We are taking active measures. People who have a respiratory infection will be waiting in their car until they are ready to go into a room,” Iyer noted. “None of my staff are allowed to travel. If they travel they have to stay home 14 days before coming back. We try to take all the precautions.”

Iyer said Tuesday that he had tested 12 patients to date for the novel coronavirus but had received only four results - all negative for the virus.

The patients tested were not showing acute symptoms, Iyer explained, but rather had potential background exposure such as recent travel.

In the Newman practice of Dr. Manuel Canga, M.D., added precautions are also being taken.

Canga said he does not have the capability to test suspected cases of COVID-19. He told Mattos Newspapers that he will refer any patients who present symptoms which indicate testing is warranted directly to a testing site rather than seeing them locally. He said Monday that he has not referred any patients for COVID-19 testing.

The physicians both said COVID-19 is on the minds of their patients.

“There is a lot of fear. Even if they come in for an unrelated problem, sooner or later the conversation turns to coronavirus,” Iyer shared.

“A lot of my patients canceled appointments for fear of getting it through the office,” Canga told Mattos Newspapers. “Overall, most patients are avoiding coming to my office.”

Both physicians are postponing followup appointments for routine care.

Canga said his office is fielding numerous calls from patients regarding seasonal health issues such as bronchitis, allergies, sinusitis or the regular flu.

Canga said fever without other symptoms can have numerous causes, and that some can be self-medicated. He recommended, though, that anybody with a fever who develops additional symptoms such as non-productive cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or body aches be seen by their health care provider.

“The majority of fevers will be coming from other causes,” he said.

Canga said shortness of breath is a symptom which particularly raises red flags for providers.

COVID-19 presents “almost the same symptoms of the regular flu, except for the shortness of breath. The shortness of breath is not a common flu symptom,” Canga said.

A fever with non-productive cough can be indicative of various conditions other than COVID-19, Iyer noted. He said concern is elevated in cases involving chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Particularly alarming, Iyer added, is shortness of breath. “That is a worrisome sign,” he stated. “If you start having difficulty breathing, you go directly to the hospital.”

One guideline for fevers, Iyer added, is that those caused by minor viral infections are typically gone by the third day. Patients should not try to self-medicate a fever for longer than three days, he told Mattos Newspapers, and should be seen more promptly if experiencing higher fevers such as 102 or 103.

If concerned or unsure of the proper course of action, the physicians emphasized, patients should always contact their health care provider for advice and guidance.

There is no single guideline or time frame for determining when a patient should be seen by a health care provider, Iyer stressed. He said patients should make that decision based on how they are feeling.

“If a person is feeling very sick and toxic, or perhaps dizzy or tired, they can be seen and it is up to the physician (to diagnose and determine a course of action),” he emphasized.

Iyer said COVID-19 is a particularly alarming virus because of its ability to be transmitted by people who are showing no symptoms.

“This is almost like a Trojan horse. That is the scary part,” he explained.

Both physicians stressed the importance of social distancing.

“I have been advising my patients to not go to outside public places. Stay home,” said Canga.

He emphasized the importance of doing everything possible to slow the spread of the virus until more respirators and hospital beds are available.

Canga said he believes warmer weather will start to slow the spread of the virus, and added that he is encouraged by the pace at which medication for COVID-19 is being developed.

Iyer also emphasized the importance of keeping one’s distance.

“Social distancing is really going to help, once people get the concept. We are social creatures....it is very difficult confining yourself to your home. You have to stick it out,” Iyer commented. “Social distancing is the most important, and you cannot touch your face. Do everything you can to not touch your face, and wash your hands.”