ST. LOUIS — Hospitals in the St. Louis area aren't the only places scrambling to stay ahead of the coronavirus threat. 

Skilled nursing facilities, assisted living homes and retirement communities are working on ways to protect their residents, many whom are most at risk.

"We had about 10 to 15 people come in today along with 30 to 40 phone calls," Mercy St. Louis Emergency Department Chairman Alok Sengupta told 5 On Your Side.

Dr. Sengupta's emergency department has been inundated with people worried about COVID-19, but hospitals are not the place to go. 

"They should not come into the emergency departments," Sengupta explained. "They should contact the health department who will provide guidance on how to proceed."

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So, what if you've shared space with someone who was around a patient with COVID-19? Dr. Sengupta said unless you personally were around the infected patient, you may not be affected.

"Anyone else coming into contact with those family members are not at higher risk for COVID-19," he said.

If you have relatives and friends who are hospitalized or in an assisted living environment, use caution just as if it was the regular flu.

"It's the same hand hygiene recommendations that we use for influenza or any viral illness," Sengupta explained. "Cover your mouth when you're coughing. Make sure you use soap and water to wash your hands and avoid contact with anyone who is ill."

5 On Your Side spoke with Michele Blunt, the Director of Compliance and Clinical Services for Delmar Gardens. Delmar Gardens operates multiple assisted living and retirement communities as well as skilled nursing facilities. 

Blunt told 5 On Your Side that they've been updating their procedures and sending out new information to their facilities at least daily. Delmar Gardens is following CMS and CDC guidance and monitoring changes.

On Tuesday, Blunt said they are asking loved ones and visitors to "respectfully refrain from visiting unless there are extenuating circumstances."

Delmar Gardens and National HeathCare Corporation are some of the local facilities who are asking people with any symptoms of respiratory illness to stay away. 

"If you have no symptoms and you're not at high risk for being exposed, you're fine to visit your family members," Sengupta said. 

Delmar Gardens has established an emergency call system to contact families immediately if coronavirus appears in one of their facilities.

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