The world seems a little smaller than it did several weeks ago. The novel coronavirus (now referred to as COVID-19) is demonstrating how often and how far people travel, how easy it can be for some to deny a warning, and how shockingly fast a virus can spread from person to person.

In January, when I first saw the Johns Hopkins map that has become so well-known and well-used, there were fewer than 3,000 people infected in mainland China – half a world away from us. We immediately began preparing at Lifespan for the reality in which we find ourselves today. We have literally been working around the clock to ensure we will be here when our patients and families need us. Our leaders and frontline staff have embraced the notion of the importance of a teamwork approach to this crisis—I am enormously proud of all our Lifespan team members. As I write this today, there are more than 160,000 coronavirus cases worldwide and close to 4,000 in the United states. In Rhode Island, a global problem has become very local, which changes everyone’s perspective and everyone’s responsibility.

As the largest health care provider and largest employer in the state, Lifespan takes its role in curtailing the spread of the virus very seriously. We have several web pages of factual information available about COVID-19. We have developed a screening protocol to use for anyone coming to a Lifespan hospital. This past week, to protect our patients and caregivers, we made the difficult decision to limit visitation. We regret that this is a hardship for patients and families, but we believe it’s necessary – especially for our older patients, who are most vulnerable to any respiratory illness.

Because we are still learning about COVID-19, many are confused about the guidance we are receiving on a daily basis. Some basic recommendations are in order. Handwashing and avoiding large crowds are the two most important. Following social distancing recommendations. Precautions are necessary; it’s a very serious situation, but with no cause for panic. The primary reason for all of the recommendations is to slow the spread of the outbreak so health care systems—Lifespan in particular—do not get overwhelmed by a sudden spike in very ill patients. As of today we are managing well and the health care professionals at Lifespan are here ready to take care of you and your family should you become ill.

We will see more cases in our region in the coming weeks and months, and it’s important to remember to be sensible. Get your ongoing information from a health system, Department of Health, and the governor. Don’t give in to the fearmongering of social media. We are preparing for the worst and working for the best. Help us flatten the outbreak curve so we can continue to take care of Rhode Islanders.

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Prior to his appointment as Lifespan’s president and chief executive officer, Timothy Babineau, MD served as president and chief executive officer of Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. Before coming to Rhode Island in 2008, he was the senior vice president and chief medical officer for the University of Maryland Medical Center and School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Before the 2005 appointment at the University of Maryland, Dr. Babineau held numerous administrative positions, including vice chairman of the division of surgery, surgical residency program director and director of the center for minimally invasive surgery at Boston Medical Center and surgeon-in-chief and medical director for the Boston Medical Center Surgical Associates at Quincy Medical Center. He has been a trustee for the University of Massachusetts and a member of its Audit and Finance Committee.