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Local doctor says early findings on COVID-19 and pregnancy 'reassuring'

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Posted at 6:59 AM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 07:59:24-04

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused fear and anxiety around the world.

One group that's been particularly shaken by the spread of the virus: women who are pregnant, or are attempting to get pregnant.

Dr. Ellen Hayes, a reproductive endocrinologist at Vios Fertility Institute in Wauwatosa, said the current COVID-19 outbreak has not been around long enough for researchers to produce definitive findings on its impact on pregnancies from start to finish.

But, she said new data available should provide some reassurance to expectant mothers.

"It does not appear women who contract COVID-19, who are currently pregnant, get more seriously ill or have any higher risk for maternal death," Hayes said. "Also, what we've seen so far, is that it doesn't appear a mother can transmit the virus to her baby in utero, and after delivery, breast milk does not appear to be positive for the virus."

Hayes said pregnant women should be listening to warnings from the CDC and taking the same precautions as the rest of us during this coronavirus outbreak.

"Hand hygiene with washing, or with hand sanitizer, and just staying away from other people," are all important, according to Hayes. "Make sure you're getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, and staying hydrated. Just do all the things you'd normally do to have a healthy pregnancy."

For the time being, the COVID-19 outbreak has also changed the way fertility clinics like Vios can treat, and interact with, their patients.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine recently released guidelines urging doctors to suspend fertility treatment cycles for all patients.

Hayes said, following that recommendation, "we are completing cycles already in process, but we're not starting any new fertility cycles at this point."

She acknowledged the change could be frustrating for some patients, but Hayes said the safest option for doctors is to keep those patients updated on the situation and hold off on starting new treatments until the pandemic subsides.

"We're staying in close communication with patients, and we're getting everything prepared for them so that they're cued up and ready to proceed with treatment as soon as we're able to do that," Hayes said.

To limit the number of people in the office to essential staff and patients in the middle of fertility cycles, the clinic has shifted its consultations and follow-up visits from in-person appointments to video conferencing.

Only one patient is allowed in the office's waiting room at a given time.

"We've implemented a system where patients wait in their car," Hayes said. "We call them when it's their appointment time, and we take them directly into the room, so they're not having unnecessary contact with other patients or our staff."

"We've also been calling and asking screening questions the day before appointments," she said. "We re-ask those questions as soon as patients arrive the next day. We need to know: does a patient have a fever? We take their temperatures. Do they have any symptoms like cough, fatigue, or anything related to COVID-19?"

"We're doing the same with our employees. We have to be very careful that we're not exposing patients," Hayes said.

She said most of her office's employees are working from home and using the same video conferencing technology patients are being instructed to use.

"We're trying to be overly cautious right now," she said.

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