COVID-19 Information for Cancer Center Patients

Are there special concerns for people with cancer?

People with cancer often have weakened immune systems. Having a weak immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off diseases, so it’s important for people with cancer and their family members to closely follow steps to protect themselves, especially when it comes to frequent handwashing. We recommend you speak with your Mass General Cancer Center specialist (oncologist, surgeon, or radiation oncologist) if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 being higher as a result of current or past cancer treatment. Please note that patients on clinical research protocols should consult with their Mass General Cancer Center specialists with any questions regarding your protocol.

What do I need to do if I am going to an appointment at the Mass General Cancer Center?

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, body aches, or chills), please call your Mass General Cancer Center specialist’s office before coming to Mass General Cancer Center, even if you have an appointment. We will ask you about your symptoms. If you have been informed that you have recently been exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19, please let the office know before coming in.

If you are scheduled for an appointment in the Cancer Center, our nursing staff make every effort to contact patients via phone the day before a scheduled appointment. The purpose of this call is to pre-screen patients for cold or flu-like symptoms, and COVID-19 exposure, and to use this information to provide direction on the patient’s next appropriate course of action.

Why has my in-person appointment been changed to a virtual visit? What is a virtual visit?

During this unprecedented time, our Cancer Center community is dedicated to continuing to provide you with the highest quality care while keeping you safe. To ensure this, we have transitioned many in-person visits to virtual visits.

Virtual visits are held through your phone, electronic device, or computer and allow you to see and talk to your doctor face-to-face.

Please note that virtual visits are currently being used in place of in-person visits and will be billed just as an in-person visit would be billed. You could be responsible for a copay, coinsurance, or deductible.

Why was my cancer surgery was cancelled or postponed?

In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) released a directive on March 15, 2020 for all hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers in Massachusetts to immediately postpone or cancel all non-essential operations. DPH defines nonessential, elective invasive procedures as those that are scheduled in advance because the procedure does not involve a medical emergency. The goal of this directive is to focus health care personnel resources on responding to this outbreak and conserve the critical shortage of personal protective equipment.

To comply with this directive and its goals, the Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary teams are meeting to determine the best care pathway for each patient scheduled for a cancer operation. In rare situations, an operation will go forward. But, for the majority of patients, the best alternative strategy will be pursued.

We recognize the tremendous anxiety faced by all in this time of great uncertainty, and the Cancer Center is committed to continuing to provide the best possible care for all of our patients.

What are policies for visitors to the Mass General Cancer Center Outpatient Clinics and Infusion Units?

Effective immediately and until further notice, the Cancer Center will enforce a NO visitor policy in our Outpatient Clinics and Infusion Units. This policy applies to all of Mass General’s Ambulatory clinics, not only the Cancer Center, and is in line with state guidance and Mass General Brigham policy. Please note that the policy for Ambulatory clinics and Infusion differs from the hospital’s Inpatient policy.

  • NO visitors are allowed into the Cancer Center Ambulatory Clinics and Infusion Units.
  • Exceptions for a single visitor may be granted by practice nursing leadership or their designee for:
    • Patients who require help with mobility or support
    • Corrections officers escorting a patient in custody
    • Pediatric patients
    • OB/patients
    • Patients with disabilities as defined in the visitor policy
    • Patients receiving end-of-life care.
  • Cancer Center Ambulatory Clinic and Infusion Units will determine patients requiring a visitor/escort at the time of scheduling.
  • Visitors/Escorts must be screened and status documented
  • Approved Visitors/Escorts will be masked and should be re-screened upon arrival and status documented
  • Patients who are approved for Cancer Center Ambulatory Clinic visits are not automatically approved for Infusion Unit visits. Two separate approvals are required for each appointment.

What should I do if I develop symptoms that might be COVID-19?

  • Always call 911 for a life-threatening emergency.
  • For other situations, you must call ahead to your Mass General Cancer Center specialist’s office for instructions about what to do. DO NOT COME to an urgent care clinic or emergency room.
    • The number for the Mass General Cancer Center in Boston and Waltham is: 617-724-4000
    • The number for the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center is: 978-882-6060

General COVID-19 Information

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 most commonly causes cold or flu-like symptoms. These may include fever, cough, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches or chills, repeated shaking with chills, headache or new loss of taste or smell. It can also cause serious problems, such as shortness of breath, pneumonia (from the virus), possibly respiratory failure requiring a breathing machine (a type of life support) and even death, especially in older people and people with existing health problems. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all but could nonetheless spread the virus to someone else.

I have symptoms of COVID-19. What should I do?

  • Please call your primary health care provider for guidance. For your safety and the safety of others, please do not come to an urgent care clinic or emergency room unless you have been instructed to do so.
  • If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms such as difficulty breathing or pressure in the chest, please call 911
  • If you come to any area of the hospital and are concerned that you may have COVID-19, or if you have a fever or cough, please wear a mask and go directly to the reception desk to speak to a staff member. Do not wait in the waiting room.

How is COVID-19 spread?

  • If you are within six feet of someone with COVID-19 infection, the infection could spread to you through droplets when the person sneezes or coughs
  • If you touch an object—such as a door handle—that has the COVID-19 virus on it, and then you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you can infect yourself
  • If you are helping care for someone with COVID-19 and you within six feet of them when they cough or sneeze

COVID-19 does not travel through the air, other than up to six feet of an infected person as described above.

Who is at risk of getting sick with COVID-19?

While anyone can get COVID-19, currently it appears that patients who are older, have suppressed immune systems, or have chronic medical conditions are more likely to experience serious illness with COVID-19.

Is there a treatment for COVID-19?

There also is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 commonly treat their symptoms at home with rest, fluids and other common cold or flu treatments, although some may require medical care to treat more severe symptoms.

Is there a vaccine?

Scientists around the globe—including researchers at the Ragon Institute of Mass General, MIT and Harvard—are working on developing a vaccine to combat COVID-19, however, currently there is no vaccine to protect against the virus.

I once took Tamiflu when I had the seasonal flu. Can I take a similar drug to protect me from COVID-19?

No. There currently is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

Is COVID-19 seasonal like the flu? Will warm weather stop the outbreak?

At this time, it is not known whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.

Should I wear a face mask to prevent COVID-19?

The CDC continues to study both the spread and effects of COVID-19 across the United States. Recent studies show that many individuals carrying COVID-19 are asymptomatic, and that even those who are presymptomatic (people who will eventually show symptoms) can transmit the virus. This means that seemingly healthy people can spread the virus to others by interacting in close proximity.

As a result, the CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, especially those where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

Please note: Cloth face masks are not meant to serve as an alternative to the six-foot social distancing rule. Social distancing is critical in addition to wearing a cloth mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Is Mass General prepared to care for patients with coronavirus?

As one of only 10 Regional Ebola and Other Special Pathogens Centers in the country, Mass General has teams of clinical staff who are trained to provide safe care to patients during this kind of outbreak. Hospital doctors, nurses, infection control specialists, emergency preparedness specialists and administrators have been closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak.

How can I protect myself and my family?

There are simple everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. These include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
  • Stay home if you are sick

I have a vacation planned, should I cancel it?

The best, most up-to-date resource for information about travel alerts is located on the CDC website. You can find a list of destinations the CDC recommends travelers avoid for all nonessential travel due to the widespread transmission of COVID-19. It also posts recommendations for older adults and those with chronic medical conditions to postpone travel plans to certain areas.

Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through food, including refrigerated or frozen food?

Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.

Should I have extra food and supplies at home?

For emergencies of any kind, it is always good to keep supplies on hand, including food, water and medicine. Visit www.ready.gov for preparedness checklists and plans. This is a good time for you to create, review and discuss your family’s emergency plan.

I have access to, or am able to make, personal protective equipment such as masks. Can I donate them to Mass General?

We are so grateful to the many people who have offered to provide COVID-19 relief to Mass General through a material donation. If you are interested in donating materials, please use this form and we will be in touch about next steps. We want to be mindful to only accept what we truly need, so please refrain from shipping or dropping off any donations unless you receive confirmation from us. Thank you for your generosity.

How do I stay up to date on the latest developments about COVID-19?

Continue checking the Massachusetts General Hospital website and patient portal, Patient Gateway. In addition, Mass General is in close contact with the CDC and the Boston Department of Public Health to share updates and receive the latest information. You can also keep up to date and learn more by visiting the COVID-19 pages of the CDC website.

Useful Resources