FAQs on SARS-CoV-2
We receive many questions from citizens and the media regarding the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Below, you will find Charité’s answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Please note: The novel coronavirus is known as SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2). The respiratory illness caused by the virus is known as COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019)
You are here:
[18 April] How does Charité support students completing their final year rotation (PJ)?
In light of the exceptional circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Charité will pay an allowance to all of its students currently completing their final year rotation (PJ). The allowance of €744 matches the maximum rate of the federal ‘Bafög’ funding for students and will be paid monthly for a duration of three months. Charité wishes to recognize the outstanding dedication and commitment of its PJ students in helping to care for patients with COVID-19.
[26 March] How does Charité contribute to advancing research on COVID-19?
In response to an initiative by Charité which is aimed at tackling the current pandemic crisis, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has allocated €150 million for a new academic research network. The network, which aims to pool all relevant expertise and support COVID-19-related research from across Germany, will be coordinated by Charité. The National Task Force of the Covid-19 research network of university medicine commenced work on 24 April.
The task of curbing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 requires a nationwide, unified approach, as does the task of ensuring optimal medical care. Increasing the knowledge base, and doing so quickly, is of the utmost importance – and requires an effective support structure. This will be provided by the new research network, an alliance which aims to include all of Germany’s university hospitals. In response to an initiative by Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer (Chief Executive Officer of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten (Director of the Institute of Virology on Campus Charité Mitte), the BMBF has agreed to provide €150 million in funding. For the first time, the nation will respond to a crisis by systematically collating and consolidating both the response plans and the diagnostic and treatment strategies of its various university hospitals and other stakeholders from within the health care system.
Under the auspices of the research network, the university hospitals will be in a position to act quickly and effectively while also preserving their high standards of quality. This will be particularly useful for the use of innovative methods, such as using telemedicine to care for patients with COVID-19. Once successfully trialed, such methods can be rolled out quickly and on a large scale. Researchers will also use standardized procedures for the treatment and follow-up of COVID-19 patients, and for the analysis of data collated in connection with these patients. This will enable the researchers to develop new treatment options for specific groups of patients, such as those with pre-existing conditions. Both existing knowledge and new insights are to be communicated widely. This will enable their prompt implementation in clinical practice and ensure patients receive the best treatments available. The resulting comprehensive data sets will also help to produce new scientific insights. In addition to being of enormous benefit to the development of treatments and vaccines, they will also be extremely helpful in managing this pandemic.
[The information regarding the commencement of the National Task Force was added on 30 April.]
[16 March] Charité postpones planned medical procedures and operations
From today and until further notice, Charité is postponing all planned medical procedures/operations. This is in order to free up hospital beds and personnel capacities in anticipation of increasing number of patients in need of treatment for COVID-19. This does not however include medical procedures/operations where postponement would be medically unjustifiable. Persons for whom a planned operation at Charité was scheduled for the coming weeks will be contacted by the respective department.
As such, Charité is following a resolution from 12 March 2020 from the German Chancellor and the German Heads of State Governments. According to this resolution, from 16 March onwards, all planned admissions, operations and procedures in all hospitals will be indefinitely postponed as far as this is medically justifiable. This resolution also forms part of the Charité pandemic response plan (see 'Questions and answers on Charité's pandemic strategy').
[6 March] How will Charité alleviate the pressure on its emergency departments if there is an increase in the number of suspected cases?
Charité’s pandemic management plan makes provisions for a dedicated examination unit to alleviate pressure on its main emergency departments in the event of a rise in suspected cases. The unit is to be established in a separate part of the building. This internal measure was implemented on Tuesday, 3 March and shall serve as a model for other hospitals in the Berlin and Brandenburg areas.
The following advice remains unchanged: Citizens who are concerned that they may have contracted the virus are advised to ring either the hotline of the Berlin Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality or their general practitioner/family doctor. They will be advised as to what action, if any, needs to be taken. Only symptomatic patients should visit the examination unit. At this unit, suspected cases will undergo testing for SARS-CoV-2 (swabs will be taken from inside the nose and throat).
The Charité examination unit is situated on Campus Virchow-Klinikum, Mittelallee 1.
Mon-Fri 8 AM to 4 PM
[The opening hours of the examination unit were updated on June 2.]
[3 March] What was the public’s response to Charité’s new Examination Unit?
The newly installed Examination Unit opened its doors at 8 AM on Tuesday, 3 March 2020. This internal measure was successful in alleviating the pressure on the emergency departments, however demand for the new service was as high as had been expected; a total of 100 patients had been swabbed by 4 PM on the unit’s first day of operation.
We therefore refer to our previous advice: anyone who is worried that they may have contracted the virus should call either the hotline provided by the Berlin Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality or their general practitioner/family doctor. We are also hopeful that other facilities and hospitals will follow suit and implement similar measures in a timely manner.
[2 March] When did Berlin have its first confirmed case of COVID-19?
On Sunday, 1 March 2020, the Berlin Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality announced that they had received confirmation of the first case of novel coronavirus in Berlin. The patient is being kept in isolation at Charité’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Respiratory Medicine on Campus Virchow-Klinikum, where he is receiving treatment and in a stable condition.
The patient was brought to one of Charité’s emergency departments on Sunday suffering from neurological symptoms. Diagnostic testing included a test for influenza. All Charité patients with suspected influenza have been undergoing routine SARS-CoV-2 testing since last week. After testing positive, the patient was admitted and placed in isolation for treatment. The authorities were notified. The public health officer in charge has initiated the process of tracing and following-up potential contacts. A range of individuals who have been in contact with the patient, including emergency department staff, remain in isolation at home.
Questions and answers on ways to support our efforts
How can people support Charité?
Charité welcomes all offers of help. We are grateful to anyone who decides to support our efforts during the current crisis, be this through donations, in-kind donations of goods or services, or by helping us on the frontline. Interested persons should use our platform for donations and helping hands to find out who to contact.
Questions and answers on the SARS-CoV-2 test
What should citizens of Berlin do if they suspect they may have caught the virus?
The Berlin Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality has set up a hotline for citizens who are concerned they may have caught the virus. The hotline number is 030 / 90 28 28 28. To improve accessibility and capacity, all of the districts of Berlin have set up their own hotlines and emails. Citizens can also contact the out-of-hours service of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians on 116 117. The out-of-hours physicians provide advice on COVID-19 and will even carry out home visits should this be deemed necessary.
Developed by Charité, the CovApp offers the user the opportunity to conduct a risk assessment at home to help them decide whether or not they should visit the Examination Unit and/or get tested for SARS-CoV-2. As part of its CovApp-based services, Charité also offers video consultations. These are aimed at citizens who are concerned they may have caught the virus but do not show any symptoms or only show mild symptoms. Citizens can also refer to the detailed advice provided by the Robert Koch Institute.
The Berlin Senate Department for Health recommends that even individuals who only have mild symptoms (e.g. cough, sneezing, sore throat) should seek medical advice if they:
- have been in contact with a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days,
- have pre-existing conditions or their respiratory symptoms are getting worse (trouble breathing, high fever or similar), or
- come into contact with vulnerable people (deemed at high risk of severe disease) through their work or voluntary work (e.g. in hospital or elderly care).
Individuals who fall into these categories should stay at home, adhere to all hygiene and distancing rules (and wear a face mask where appropriate) and phone the relevant public health department for further advice. A public health officer will determine the appropriate course of action. Their assessment will be based on the criteria of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the specifics of the individual case.
- Only patients with severe symptoms should visit an emergency department. The department should be contacted in advance and notified of a possible case of COVID-19.
- In emergencies (e.g. breathing difficulties), please contact the emergency services on 112.
Which cases should be tested for SARS-CoV-2?
Based on the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the treating physician will determine whether there are grounds for classifying a patient as a ‘suspected case’. An individual will be classed as a ‘suspected case’ if they have:
- acute respiratory symptoms following contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, up to 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms.
A test for SARS-CoV-2 is indicated in all patients classified as ‘suspected cases’. Physicians may also request a test for SARS-CoV-2 in patients not meeting the RKI classification of ‘suspected cases’. Such patients will include:
- Persons who developed symptoms but have not been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. While this applies to all categories of patients, it particularly applies to at-risk patients and those who work in the care sector, a medical practice or in a hospital.
Please note: The guidelines provided by the Robert Koch Institute are updated on a regular basis to reflect the current situation in Germany. To obtain the current RKI criteria for SARS-CoV-2 testing, please consult the RKI website.
The RKI does not usually recommend tests for asymptomatic persons, even if they have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. The reason for this recommendation is that the virus has an incubation period of 14 days. A negative test result is therefore of limited value if the test is taken during the incubation period since SARS-CoV-2 is not detectable at this stage. As such, there is still a chance an infection could develop following a negative test result. A negative test result obtained during the incubation period therefore does not guarantee that the tested persons will remain free of symptoms.
How much does a SARS-CoV-2 test cost?
The costs of testing will now be covered by the statutory health insurance providers (since 1 February 2020), provided it is requested by a physician. Please note this only applies if the patient was seen by a physician prior to such a request being made.
What does SARS-CoV-2 testing at Charité involve?
Individuals who need to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 have to undergo swabbing. This means taking swabs from their upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) and, where possible, also from the lower respiratory tract (e.g. sputum). A range of testing sites, both within Germany and beyond, collect swabs and send them to Charité for testing; these sites include hospitals, public health authorities, fire stations and doctors’ surgeries.
All SARS-CoV-2 testing takes place at the main laboratory of Labor Berlin, a company jointly owned by Charité and Vivantes. When the swabbing samples arrive at the main laboratory’s ‘specimen reception’, all of the relevant specimen-related information is entered into the laboratory information management system. The samples are then sent to Molecular Diagnostics. This unit, which is responsible for testing the specimens, is staffed by more than 30 employees and is subject to the strictest safety standards.
As a first step, the samples have to be pre-processed. For dry swabs, this is a rather lengthy and laborious process, which involves the viral pathogens contained in the sample having to be manually transferred into a special liquid medium. This is followed by the extraction of the genetic material (viral RNA), a process involving the use of chemical techniques to break open the viral shell and release the viral RNA. A number of different steps are then used to break up this genetic material in order to isolate it from the remaining contents of the sample. Once purified in this manner, the viral RNA is transferred to the test equipment where a real-time RT-PCR assay takes place. The assay involves the use of reverse transcriptase (RT) to ‘translate’ viral RNA into DNA. The DNA produced is then copied multiple times (amplified) using a technique known as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). After this, virus-specific DNA probes are used to detect the virus. The entire process is closely monitored by specially trained medical technology staff.
All test results are evaluated by a physician, who produces a report without delay. Evaluation and reporting takes place 24/7. If the test result is inconclusive, the assay is repeated. As soon as a conclusive result is available, this is transmitted electronically to the physician who submitted the original specimen. Staff from the physician’s practice then contact the person from whom the specimen was collected to let them know whether or not they have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Questions and answers on how to protect oneself against infection
The current approach to the pandemic is to slow the spread of infection. Everyone can and should implement actions to support this. It is crucial that, in addition to protecting themselves against infection, people also focus on protecting other people. In the current situation, the recommendations are as follows:
- Generally speaking, anyone who has respiratory symptoms should stay at home. In some persons with COVID-19, symptoms are so mild that the affected person hardly notices they are ill. The current recommendation in Germany is, therefore, to avoid all social contact. This does not apply to people who share the same household. The most effective way of achieving social distance is to stay at home and only go out for essentials. The same rules apply to children and adolescents.
- By maintaining a minimum distance of between 1.5 and 2 m from others and refraining from shaking hands, people can protect themselves as well as others much more effectively from infection.
- Private events (birthday parties, game nights etc.) should be avoided.
- Particular care should be taken to protect older persons (over 65) and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, respiratory disorders and disorders involving impaired immunity). For instance, family members and neighbors can help raise risk awareness among persons considered to be at increased risk from the disease. They can also support at-risk individuals by offering to do their shopping. It is also advisable to temporarily refrain from asking older people (e.g. grandparents) to look after children.
- By following the principles of cough etiquette/respiratory hygiene and practicing a thorough handwashing routine, people can further protect themselves as well as others from infection. Infographics summarizing the most important hygiene measures have been published by the Federal Center for Health Education.
- Anyone who is sick should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. This is essential to protect others. Infected people can transmit the virus as early as 1 to 3 days prior to symptom onset. It is therefore recommended that people wear face masks (textile barrier) while out in public. This particularly applies in situations where several people spend an extended period of time in an enclosed space or in situations where people are unable to maintain minimum distance (e.g. in shops and on public transport).
Face masks act as a barrier, catching respiratory droplets which form when we speak, cough or sneeze. Provided they are used in addition to minimum distance and hygiene rules, they represent an additional element in a multi-pronged strategy aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. A sufficient number of people must use face masks (and wear them correctly) in order for this strategy to work: face masks must be suitably tight and provide an adequate cover for the mouth and nose; once damp, the face mask must be changed. Face masks must not be touched or moved (either consciously or unconsciously) by the wearer and they must not be worn around the neck. Charité has published guidance on how to fashion a makeshift mask. Both the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) and the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) have issued detailed tips on how to use different types of masks correctly. Please note: While makeshift masks are presumed to be an effective means of protecting others, their efficacy has not been scientifically proven. There is no evidence that this type of mask provides protection for the user.
Given the global shortage of face masks, it is important to safeguard an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for medical staff who have to work in close contact with both infected patients and suspected cases. It is the only way to ensure continued optimal medical care and will be a key factor in determining the overall societal impact of this epidemic. Healthy individuals should therefore refrain from purchasing masks intended for medical use.
- Shared rooms should be well-ventilated to ensure a welcome supply of fresh air.
- It is advisable to reduce instances of touching one’s face. This reduces the risk of pathogens entering the body via the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.
- Walking or cycling should be considered as alternatives to public transport when undertaking essential travel.
- Everyone should keep informed by regularly consulting the latest updates on the spread of the infection, ensuring that this information is obtained from reputable media sources or the web pages of the relevant public authorities (such as the Federal Ministry of Health, the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Center for Health Education; and, in Berlin, the Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality).
Is it still safe to visit the hospital in case of an emergency?
Yes. In order to create additional bed and staffing capacity for COVID-19 patients, and to reduce the risk of infection, hospitals have postponed many elective procedures and put in place wide-ranging visitor restrictions. Urgent procedures (e.g. Cancer treatments), however, continue as normal. This of course includes acute and emergency care.
In the case of symptoms which are indicative of serious, acute medical conditions such as heart attack or stroke, you should therefore continue to use 112 to call for help. Individuals with these types of conditions must be taken to hospital and treated immediately. Delays in medical treatment can have serious consequences. Patients with COVID-19 are treated on entirely separate wards. For a short summary of the typical symptoms of heart attack and stroke, please click here.
Questions and answers on the disease COVID-19
What is known about symptoms and the course of COVID-19?
The Robert Koch Institute is compiling new findings on novel coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 in a fact sheet. Since the amount of data is growing rapidly, the document is updated continuously.
According to current knowledge, the course of the disease varies widely, from asymptomatic courses to severe pneumonia with lung failure and death. Among the cases recorded in China, the most common symptoms reported are fever and cough. In about four out of five cases, the disease was mild to moderate. Observations made outside Wuhan/Hubei and outside China indicate that the proportion of mild courses may be higher. In Europe, the loss of the sense of smell or taste, fever, cough and sore throat were the most frequently reported symptoms.
What are the likely health effects of SARS-CoV-2?
It is essential to distinguish between effects on the individual and effects on the health care system.
- How does the virus affect the individual?
Based on current knowledge, the novel coronavirus will prove harmless for the majority of people. Based on data primarily from Chinese cases, the Robert Koch Institute estimates that in four out of five cases, the infection will take a mild or moderate course. In some patients, however, the virus will cause severe cases of pneumonia. As a rule, when a patient develops pneumonia, there is always a risk that they may die. Certain persons are more likely to develop severe symptoms. These at-risk groups include older persons, smokers, severly obese persons and persons with serious pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory disorders, liver disease, cancer, and immunodeficiency). According to the majority of available studies, children are less likely to be affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection than adults. The symptoms also often seem less severe, although severe courses can also occur, especially in younger children. Pregnant women do not appear to have an increased risk of a severe course of the disease. Please note that all of these statements are based on current data and should be regarded as provisional.
- What effects will the virus have on the health care system?
It is impossible to predict the overall impact of SARS-CoV-2 on the German health care system. This is mainly due to the rate at which the virus is spreading. If the infection spreads very slowly, this will ensure the health care system has sufficient capacity to cope with the additional pressure created by having to treat COVID-19 patients. If, however, the infection spreads very quickly, this will result in a sudden and significant increase in the numbers of people requiring treatment.
This would mean having to treat large numbers of COVID-19 patients in addition to patients already receiving treatment for other conditions. Maintaining a normal level of service under these conditions would constitute an enormous challenge for the health care system. The aim of the current strategy is therefore to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 as much as possible in order to prevent any such shortfalls in capacity. Everyone can and should help to achieve this – including individuals with a low risk of developing severe symptoms (please see 'Questions and answers regarding your own protection against infection').
What are current estimates regarding the fatality rate in patients with COVID-19?
It is difficult to provide an estimate of how many patients with COVID-19 will die from the disease. However, a rough estimate of the fatality rate is important in order to predict how the infection is likely to develop. Only by doing so can health care systems make the necessary preparations. In order to correctly estimate the disease’s case fatality rate (also ‘lethality’ or ‘mortality rate’, the latter a scientifically less accurate term), one would need to know the exact number of infected persons. As most people develop only mild symptoms, however, many cases of COVID-19 are never diagnosed. This means that official statistics are based on incomplete information on overall case numbers. This is why fatality rates tend to be exaggerated, particularly in infection scenarios which are characterized by high levels of uncertainty (such as the situation in China). Fatality rates also depend on other factors, such as the capacity of the relevant health care system, meaning they can vary between regions.
At the current stage, expert estimates suggest that COVID-19 has a fatality rate of between 0.3 and 0.7 percent. This means that out of every 1,000 patients with COVID-19, approximately 3 to 7 will die. A similar fatality rate was observed during the Asian flu pandemic of 1957 which spread across the globe in the same way as SARS-CoV-2.
Based on current data, approximately two thirds of people in Germany – approximately 56 million – will get infected with SARS-CoV-2. At this point, a sufficient number of people will have achieved immunity, meaning any further spread will be stopped. Based on an estimated number of approximately 56 million persons infected with the virus in this country and a fatality rate of 0.5%, approximately 280,000 deaths overall may be anticipated. It is important to note that it is not yet clear whether these extra deaths will have much of an impact on overall population statistics. Whether they do will mainly depend on the rate at which SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread. Germany records approximately 850,000 deaths a year. If the SARS-CoV-19 infection spreads over a period of several years, COVID-19 would have relatively little impact on the annual death rate, thus causing relatively little concern among the general public. This is the reason why the authorities are pursuing a strategy aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
Questions and answers regarding blood donations
Is it OK to continue donating blood?
Healthy individuals can continue to donate blood. There is an urgent need for both blood and plasma donations. Donations have decreased dramatically over the past few weeks. However, blood donations are very important. In addition to being used for patients who need blood transfusions, they are also used to make medicines. Blood donations are permitted and welcome, even during the current crisis and even during current restrictions on public life.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via blood or that a patient could get infected through blood from an undiagnosed case. Irrespective of the current situation, all blood donations are subject to a range of safety measures. Individuals showing signs and symptoms of infection are not permitted to donate blood. All donors are evaluated by medically trained staff. All donors will have their temperature taken and must answer a standard set of questions. As a precautionary measure, individuals who have returned from risk areas, as well as those who have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, will be precluded from donating blood for a minimum period of four weeks.
The donor centers will also wish to ensure that donors are not placed at an increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. Visitors to these centers must therefore make sure to keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters between themselves and others at all times.
At Charité, blood donations are currently being accepted on both Campus Charité Mitte (CCM) and Campus Benjamin Franklin (CBF).
Potential donors are advised to contact the relevant donor center for information on conditions to be met before arrival. Please note: The donor centers will not be conducting tests for SARS-CoV-2.
For further information on blood donations during the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, please consult the following websites: DRK Blood Donation Service [DRK-Blutspendedienst Nord-Ost], Robert Koch Institute and Federal Center for Health Education [Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung].
Questions an answers regarding research and teaching activities at Charité
What measures regarding research and teaching activities at Charité were adopted on 11 March?
On 11 March 2020, the Berlin Senate Chancellery for Science and Research, in consultation with Charité and the Berlin state universities, agreed immediate measures to curb the spread of coronavirus (see press release by the Berlin Senate Chancellery for Science and Research). Aimed at protecting both staff and patients, these measures form part of the Pandemic Response Plan and will be implemented for all degree courses at Charité.
The following measures apply to all Berlin-based higher education institutions/universities and, as such, are binding on all Charité staff and students. These measures shall be effective immediately and until further notice.
- The immediate cancellation of all conferences, meetings and academic events scheduled for the current lecture-free period and the 2020 Summer Semester teaching period (until 20 July 2020). This also applies to third-party events.
- The immediate cancellation of all classroom-based teaching taking place during the current lecture-free period. The individual higher education institutions shall explore the feasibility of moving teaching online.
- All of the higher education institutions have been instructed to evaluate the feasibility of any examinations scheduled between now and 20 July 2020. This evaluation should take into consideration the guidance provided by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). A decision regarding the feasibility of proceeding with state examinations shall be taken in consultation with the relevant Senate Departments for Justice, Health and Education. Practical placements undertaken as part of academic studies, whether underway or in planning, shall be subject to the guidance issued by the relevant host institution/organization.
- For all higher education institutions, the start of the teaching period shall be postponed until 20 April 2020. The higher education institutions are preparing the measures needed to postpone classes and examinations or shorten semester length (e.g. block seminars, online formats etc.)
- Other areas and services such as research activities, administrative services and libraries will continue to operate as normal for the time being.
- All students, researchers and research support staff returning from one of the RKI designated risk areas will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Work-related travel and research visits to RKI designated risk areas will not be approved.
- All universities and research institutions are requested to communicate details of relevant measures to their members and to continually update them as the situation develops. The pandemic response plans of the higher education and research institutions will be updated where this has not already been done.
Furthermore, the Senate Chancellery and Charité have agreed the following arrangements:
- At this point in time, none of these restrictions shall apply to medicine and dentistry students currently in the process of completing their final year rotations (PJ) or clinical clerkships at Charité. Further discussions will be held with the Senate Chancellery for Science and Research over the next few days to determine arrangements regarding patient-based teaching.
Previously agreed measures are likely to be subject to considerable challenges and restrictions. This is an extremely dynamic situation. At this point, it is impossible to predict with any certainty how long it may last or what additional steps may become necessary. The aim is and remains, however, to find the best possible solutions for Charité patients, staff and students.
What additional measures regarding research and teaching activities at Charité were adopted on 13 March?
On Friday, March 13 2020, the Berlin Senate Chancellery for Science and Research, in consultation with Charité and the Berlin state universities, agreed additional immediate measures to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. These are intended to complement the measures introduced on 11 March 2020.
The following measures shall apply to all Berlin-based higher education institutions/universities. As such they are binding on all Charité staff and students. These measures shall be effective immediately and until further notice.
- All classroom-based teaching has been canceled. The institutions shall make every effort to introduce online formats and other innovative options to ensure that teaching activities can continue at the required level, provided this is in keeping with the other measures.
- Where there are valid reasons for keeping existing examination arrangements in place, such arrangements must follow Charité’s guidance on examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The responsibility for compliance rests with the relevant institution.
- All libraries shall be closed (to guests and students). Arrangements should be made to offer online library services. Loan period rules will be suspended. No late fees shall be chargeable during this time.
- All canteens and museums in research institutions shall be closed, sport services offered by higher education institutions have been canceled. The Botanical Garden’s indoor areas shall be closed; the park itself will remain open.
- The administrative services shall continue to provide normal service for now. However, institutions should make use of options such as remote working/working from home and other measures to the extent necessary, including where this goes beyond existing contractual arrangements. All institutions are also required to put in place measures to safeguard minimum levels of service. The use of open-plan offices is to be avoided.
- In certain cases (where valid reasons exist), research activities may be able to continue, provided they meet the requirements and recommendations listed above.
- The relevant institutions are urged to ensure that no approvals are issued for work-related travel either within Germany or abroad, regardless of the reason or destination of travel. Any existing approvals should be rescinded. The same shall apply to all research visits and student stays abroad which are still in the planning/approval stage (as part of institutional programs).
Arrangements for teaching activities pertaining to Charité’s medicine and dentistry students are currently being refined in consultation with the Senate Chancellery for Science and Research. Charité shall provide this information as soon as it is available.
What are the regulations concerning classroom-based teaching at Charité as of 19 March 2020?
According to measures agreed upon by the Berlin Senate Chancellery fo Science and Research on 11 March, 13 March and 18 March, presence at Berlin-based higher education institutions/universities is to be severely restricted. In order to maintain a minimum of teaching activities at Charité, a number of special regulations apply. They especially concern assignments and courses during final year rotations (PJ) and during block placements (Blockpraktika).
Until further notice, all Charité study courses are subject to the following regulations:
- The start of the teaching period has been postponed until 20 April 2020. This means that the introductory week for the Medicine course is cancelled.
- According to a decree by the Senate Chancellery, from the close of business on 20 March 2020, administrative operations of Berlin's universities will be limited to minimal essential services only. Charité is excluded from this.
- As of 19 March 2020 and until further notice, no face-to-face examinations may take place. Examinations will be conducted in alternative forms and/or at a later date. Charité exemptions include:
- Examinations in current block placements (Praktika) in Medicine. These may continue to take place face-to-face.
- Charité is currently liaising with the Senate Chancellery regarding scheduled state examinations.
- Classroom lectures, classroom format seminars, placements (Praktika) and bedside teaching including physical examination courses are suspended until further notice. Possibilities for alternative formats will be sought. Exemptions include:
- Face-to-face teaching during the final year rotations and block placements (Blockpraktika) in Medicine may continue as usual. However, attendance checks are suspended until further notice.
- Clinical clerkships (Famulatur) may continue.
Is the Medical Library open?
As of 4 May, loan services have resumed at all three branches of Charité’s Medical Library. This arrangement is subject to the strict observance of certain rules. Both members of staff and students of Charité will be able to reserve books for collection using the Primo library portal (Bibliothekenportal Primo). A face mask should be worn when visiting the lending desk. Reading rooms and computer workstations will remain closed. However, you will continue to have full access to electronic resources, such as journals, e-books, databases, and online learning content. Further information can be found on the website of the Medical Library. The Medical Library had been closed to the public since 14 March as part of the measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will research activities continue at Charité?
Following the decision by the Berlin Senate Chancellery for Science and Research, most university-based research will now be suspended in Berlin. Exceptions are made in cases where there are valid reasons for continuation. Charité is complying with this decision in order to help contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections and protect both Charité patients and members of staff. As a result, Charité has suspended all research activities requiring face-to-face interactions, including clinical trials.
Wherever clinical research is affected by this decision, patient safety remains the highest priority. However, Charité does not only have clinical responsibilities. It also has to, and wishes to, meet its research responsibilities in the fight against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19. This means that certain research activities meet a ‘valid exemption’ rule and should be continued. For example, valid exemptions exist if:
- the research serves to improve our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and/or COVID-19.
- immediate suspension or postponement of a clinical trial would adversely affect the safety of trial participants (e.g. cancer patients).
- the use of perishable reagents or reagents which are particularly rare (e.g. primary cell material) is necessary and the research has already started.
The decision as to whether a research project can continue under the valid exemption rule is made on a case-by-case basis. Projects qualifying for exception from suspension must comply with a range of new safety measures which are aimed at mitigating the risk of infection, and these must be implemented in all day-to-day research activities.
How is Charité contributing to research into COVID-19?
Charité does not only care for COVID-19 patients, it is also actively pursuing research into the disease. As part of these efforts, Charité and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) have joined forces to develop an interdisciplinary research program comprising studies from both basic and clinical research, which aims to increase our understanding of the novel coronavirus and its impact on the body, while also speeding up the development of treatment options. As part of these endeavors, researchers use the latest technologies, such as mass spectrometry, single cell sequencing and high-throughput immunological screening, to study the changes caused by SARS-CoV-2 in the human body. Current research projects are also shedding light on the respective roles of the heart and the immune system in determining the course of the disease. Researchers are also focusing on the issue of potential health consequences and how these might be prevented. Last but not least, they are also testing a number of treatment options for the disease.
To ensure the effective coordination of SARS-CoV-2- and COVID-19-related research taking place at Charité and the BIH, the two organizations have established a new committee – the Charité/BIH COVID-19 Research Board. The committee, which is made up of experts from a wide range of disciplines, aims to create synergies, optimize the use of scarce biomaterials, and promote the shared use of available technologies.
Questions and answers on Charité's pandemic strategy
What is Charité doing to prepare for a potential pandemic?
Charité has set up a Pandemic Management Team for COVID-19. The team meets daily to assess the current situation. The group’s membership comprises the Chief Medical Officer, virologists, infectious disease specialists and representatives from Corporate Communication. Charité also has a pandemic response plan, which sets out the precise processes and procedures to be followed by all areas of Charité in the event of a pandemic.
Key measures from its Pandemic Response Plan include the repurposing of individual rooms, wards, beds and outpatient areas, which will be used exclusively for patients affected by the pandemic. As part of these measures, Charité Campus-Klinik (CCK) will be gradually converted into a dedicated intensive care building with an additional 135 beds. The first ward on level 3 of the CCK building is ready to accept patients from 27 March 2020. It houses 24 beds that will add to Charité’s existing capacity of 364 intensive care beds. All of Charité’s intensive care beds offer life-saving ventilation equipment. Although the extra capacity of this new facility is not yet required, the unit will be ready to accept intensive care patients if and when this becomes necessary.
What conditions must be met for the treatment of COVID-19 patients?
In order to be able to treat COVID-19 patients, they must be isolated from other patients. It should be noted that COVID-19 is not in the same risk category as highly infectious diseases such as Ebola or pneumonic plague, which would require a specialist isolation ward.
For comprehensive and up-to-date information on SARS-CoV-2 (including information for health care professionals), please consult the information provided by the Robert Koch Institute or the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Citizens of Berlin will find additional information on the website of the Berlin Senate Department for Health, Care and Equality.