COVID-19 and Cancer Frequently Asked Questions
If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, continuing to receive your therapy despite the COVID-19 pandemic improves your chance of the best outcome. There are things you should know and important steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-COV-2. We’ve prepared this information to help you understand COVID-19 and what we are doing at our hospitals to continue to provide your cancer care.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the illness caused by SARS-COV-2, the novel coronavirus identified in 2019 that has been spreading around the world. It is very contagious and is spread through the air — as droplets you may inhale — and on infected surfaces, which you may touch and then transmit into your body when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. It can take up to 14 days from the time of exposure until symptoms develop. Some people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms or even no symptoms, while others experience severe symptoms and life-threatening complications that require hospitalization.
As a person receiving cancer treatment, am I more at risk for COVID-19?
Some cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy, weaken the immune system and can make you more susceptible to infection. In the case of COVID-19, you may develop worse symptoms and severe complications, compared with someone who isn’t receiving cancer treatments. You may be especially susceptible at certain points during treatment, such as right after chemotherapy, which can reduce the numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body. As a person with cancer, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus and to let your doctor know if you develop any symptoms. This is even more important if you have other health problems, as well, such as diabetes or heart disease, and if you are over age 60, since people with those additional factors are at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.
How can I reduce my chance of getting COVID-19?
- Wash your hands often and/or use hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Maintain “social distancing,” staying at least 6 feet away from other people and avoid large crowds
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or into a tissue that you immediately throw away
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home every day
- Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick
- Wear a mask at all times when out in public, including inside the hospital
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 can cause a variety of symptoms, the most common of which are:
- Fever (temperature over 99.9º F)
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
What should I do if I develop any of these symptoms?
If you are currently in cancer treatment, call your oncologist’s office or patient navigator and follow their instructions. If you are not receiving cancer treatment but are being monitored with routine follow-up, call your primary care physician’s office.
I feel like I might have a fever but I don’t have a thermometer.
As someone being treated for cancer, it is very important that you own a thermometer at home. If you have a fever of 100ºF or more, call you patient navigator to make sure we are informed. We will let you know what you need to do. Effective Monday, May 11, 2020, all people entering a Hackensack Meridian Health facility will have their temperature taken. Anyone with a temperature of 100°F or greater will not be allowed to enter except in the case of patients who are seeking medically necessary, time sensitive care. This protocol applies to anyone entering our care locations.
What are the hospitals
doing to protect people from COVID-19?
To keep everyone as safe as possible and reduce the risk of spread of the virus, we are:
- Keeping all entrances closed except for the main front entrance. This helps us monitor who is coming into the Cancer Center and ensures that we can take the proper precautions with all patients and staff (This applies to John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center).
- Checking the temperature of anyone who comes into the hospital, and requiring everyone to wear a mask. You must wear a mask for the duration of your visit.
- Ensuring that our staff wear masks and other personal protective equipment. Doing so not only protects them and their families, but also our patients and their families from exposure to the virus.
- No visitors are permitted at our facilities except in certain situations. Caretakers of cancer patients are permitted to visit in unique circumstances after proper screening protocols and masking have been completed.
What can I expect if I come into the Cancer Center with COVID-19 symptoms?
It is extremely important that you be honest with us about how you are feeling and any symptoms you may have. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, we will take immediate steps to isolate you from other people:
- You will be directed to an isolated elevator used only for people with COVID-19 symptoms. (This applies to John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center).
- When you get off the elevator, you will be met by a COVID-19-designated team that includes a doctor, nurse, and medical assistant who are wearing proper protective equipment (mask, gloves, and face shield) to protect you as well as them. (This applies to John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center).
- You will be tested for COVID-19 and other viruses. You will be kept in isolation during this time.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, we will evaluate you to see if you need to be admitted to the hospital or if you can be monitored at home, remaining in close contact with our nurse navigators to track your symptoms.
- If you are undergoing cancer treatment, you will have a designated COVID-19 medical oncologist who will update your regular medical oncologist about your health. (This applies to John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center).
Can I continue to receive my cancer treatments during the COVID-19 crisis?
People receiving treatment for cancer should be able to continue treatment as long as they are being monitored and not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. We are doing all we can to continue to provide cancer therapy (surgery, infusion therapies, and radiation therapy) during this time. If you take oral cancer drugs, you may be able to have prescribed treatments delivered directly to you, so you don’t have to go to a pharmacy.
If you do need to come to the Cancer Center for an appointment, here’s what you can expect:
- You will receive a phone call from us the night before your visit to ensure you do not have any symptoms that suggest COVID-19 infection and to make sure you haven’t been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. If you have been exposed or have any symptoms, we may reschedule your visit and ask you to stay home and be evaluated by your primary care physician.
- Upon arriving for your treatment, you will receive a mask to wear during your visit, and all of our staff will be wearing masks as well. This measure is to protect you, our staff, and anyone else from potential exposure to the virus.
- If you have symptoms but need to be seen at the Cancer Center, we will place you in a protected room. Our team will evaluate you and test you right away, and then advise you about the next steps to take.
Should I keep my scheduled follow-up appointment?
Long-term follow-up appointments, imaging exams, and laboratory tests for people who have completed treatment are very important. We are offering telemedicine visits whenever appropriate and continuing to provide imaging and laboratory tests with the proper precautions to keep you safe.
Can I continue having imaging tests?
Yes. We are continuing to provide imaging exams, especially those such as CT and PET-CT scans that we use to assess the effectiveness of treatment and determine the next steps in your care and to monitor your health after treatment. Our imaging sites are very safe, and the radiology team takes all the necessary precautions.
Can I continue having my weekly laboratory tests?
Yes. We will continue to do weekly laboratory tests, such as blood tests in people receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy, to monitor for possible side effects. Some of these may be done closer to your home, others in our hospitals. If you are coming to the hospital, we will call you the night before to make sure you have no symptoms and remind you that you will be in a protected environment where everyone will take the proper precautions to avoid exposure to the virus.
Are there patients at the hospital who have COVID-19?
Due to the widespread nature of the virus, there are likely to be patients who have encountered it. However, we continue to screen every patient before each appointment and when they enter the hospital itself, and isolate any patients who are suspected of having the virus.
I am in a clinical trial. Will it still continue?
If you are in a clinical trial, please call your clinical trial research nurse or research study assistant for guidance on what to do.
I don’t have cancer, but I am caring for someone who does and is receiving treatment. What can I do?
Take the same precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, such as washing your hands, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in your home, avoiding touching your face, sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue, maintaining social distancing (6 feet apart from others), and staying home as much as possible to avoid bringing the virus back home to your loved one. You may want to take the extra step of monitoring yourself, such as taking your temperature once or twice a day and reaching out to your primary care provider if you develop any symptoms.
- Labor and Delivery Guidelines
- Blood Donors Needed
- Visitor Restrictions
- Center for Discovery and Innovation
- NJ Pandemic Relief Fund
- NJ COVID-19 Information Hub
- Volunteering – We greatly appreciate people offering to volunteer at Hackensack Meridian Health. In our effort to protect the health and safety of our team members, patients and the community, we are unable to have volunteers at this time. We are, however, hiring for immediate openings. Check out our complete list of openings.
- Donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – We are joining the state’s call and asking community members who wish to donate supplies to email email@example.com.
- Food Donations – Thank you for your interest in making a food donation to our caregivers. We ask that you please email FoodDonations@hackensackmeridian.org to coordinate your delivery, allowing a two to three-day window.