Two days before her due date, with her coronavirus-related stress level growing alongside the big baby boy inside her, Trisha Jensen decided it was time to go to her West Jordan, Utah, hospital to be induced.
Her sister’s 5-day-old baby died from meningitis about five years ago, and as a nurse, she said, “it’s already in my mind that a healthy baby can change quickly.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, many expecting moms share the concern.
While available information suggests no serious increased risk because the virus that causes the disease is new, it’s too early to say for sure whether millions of pregnant women face additional threats to themselves or their unborn babies.
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Officials in Washington state only seemed to confuse matters when King County officials early this month grouped pregnant women with elderly people and others as being at higher risk from the coronavirus.
So far there are more than 14,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. – a number expected to grow with increased testing – and more than 200 have died. The number of pregnant mothers diagnosed with the disease, however, remains low.
“The hard part is we just don’t have the data, there’s only 30-plus cases (known worldwide),” said Dr. Laura Sienas, a University of Washington Medical Center maternal and fetal medicine fellow. “In general, pregnant women are at higher risk, but it does not appear to be that much higher risk.”
A study out last month in the British medical journal Lancet on nine pregnant women in China with pneumonia-related to COVID-19 found no evidence of infection transferred to their babies.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said in an advisory to medical offices that pregnant women had a higher risk of death from past viral epidemics than has been seen in the current outbreak. The Lancet study and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is a lack of published data showing an increased risk with coronavirus.
According to the Lancet study and the CDC, pregnant women are particularly susceptible to respiratory bacteria and severe pneumonia because their immune systems are suppressed and experience physiological changes such as needing more oxygen.
A pre-publication report released by the medical journal Pediatrics said infants and children are less likely to become severely ill with the new virus than older adults, but just as with previous coronaviruses, some children are more susceptible. That includes children with respiratory illness and compromised immune systems.
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While researchers wait for more data, pregnant women remain wary of the virus – and more interaction with the health care system in general.
Laura Hire, who is about 30 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed last week with gestational diabetes on top of her asthma. In her third trimester, she needs to visit her midwives every two weeks now and expects she will need regular appointments with her doctor because of diabetes.
“I don’t like that I’m going to all these health care provider appointments,” said Hire. “I don’t like the potential exposure, but I will do everything I need to do to keep this baby safe and healthy.”
The Columbus, Ohio, resident is a nurse who works for a health care company. Hire said she is “certainly concerned as I know how stressful it can be not having the resources needed in the hospital.”
In the Seattle area, Sienas said they are “doing as much phone triaging as possible” and trying to shift appointments to telemedicine. Still, with later-stage patients, there “are many essential visits.”
“I’m doing a lot of education at this point using as many tools as I know,” said Sienas.
Even in her hard-hit area – Washington is the most affected state in the U.S. – Sienas said isolation rooms are available in labor and delivery if any mother has the coronavirus and, as of now, there are isolation intensive care unit beds “all through the area.”
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Babies born to mothers with COVID-19 will have to be removed immediately and isolated, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes. The infant automatically becomes a PUI or person under investigation, he said.
Even in isolation, Sienas said breastfeeding will be recommended but a mother with COVID-19 will need to wear a mask to prevent respiratory droplets from getting on the infant.
Back in Utah, Jensen was unable to be induced on Monday but returned the following day and a healthy Riggs Ryan Jensen was born at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Jensen plans on staying at home with the baby for up to two weeks. She’s read that people can have the virus without symptoms for from two to 24 days and doesn’t want to take any chances of coming into contact with someone who has it.
Gupta urged pregnant women to take all of the necessary precautions, but not to overreact.
“There’s no sign yet that any part of our country is really underwater when it comes to that kind of capacity for pregnant women,” said Gupta, West Virginia’s former health commissioner. “It’s not like there should be a run on C-sections before hospitals get overrun.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus, pregnancy: What’s the risk to expecting mothers, babies?