BOONE — AppHealthCare, Watauga County Schools, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Appalachian State University, Watauga County Emergency Management and multiple local, state and federal partners are taking steps to minimize the potential effects of the 2019 novel coronavirus, mirroring similar efforts worldwide as new cases are being discovered, including in North Carolina on March 3.
The first presumptive positive case in North Carolina was confirmed in a March 3 press conference by Gov. Roy Cooper. The individual, who is in Wake County, was exposed to the virus in Washington state, Cooper said.
As of March 3, there were more than 60 confirmed cases in more than 14 different states, including North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. The six confirmed deaths from the virus have all been in Washington state.
Earlier on March 3, the N.C. DHHS announced that the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health was able to perform testing for the virus.
“Testing is already underway in our state lab and that means we get results faster,” Cooper said in a statement. “Our public health leaders have been working around the clock to ensure that we are prepared.”
The respiratory illness first detected in China in late 2019 currently has no vaccine. The virus spreads from person to person and through international travel, resulting in outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy with new cases being confirmed daily, according to the World Health Organization.
“Even though the risk to the general public is low, we are preparing should we have coronavirus cases in our area,” AppHealthCare, the district health department for Watauga, Ashe and Allegheny counties, said on March 3.
In Watauga County, the uncertainty of the virus is prompting preventative measures.
Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said the school system was considering the possible impacts of the coronavirus and is working closely with local health officials and emergency management staff.
“We’ve already begun working with our local health service agencies to determine the best steps we can take as a school system to ensure the safety of our students in the event of increased activity of the novel coronavirus in our area,” Elliott said in a statement.
Elliott said school administration had been provided with guidance for students and staff about hygiene, monitoring of students with illness and cleaning and sanitation of classrooms, buses and facilities.
“While there is still great uncertainty about what we might see from this virus, we intend to be as proactive and prepared as possible,” Elliott said.
Elliott said Watauga County Schools Lead Nurse Shelly Klutz and nurses at each school in the district planned to spend extra time in classrooms in the coming weeks to educate students about self-care and virus prevention. Klutz and her staff are in constant communication with local health officials to ensure they have access to the most up-to-date information and best practices for prevention.
Elliott said the school system was also working to ensure that all schools have access to adequate supplies and materials approved by the CDC cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
On the campus of Appalachian State University, the institution states that its Environmental Health Safety and Emergency Management staffs are working with facilities and housing on campus to “ensure that EPA-registered hospital disinfectants are being consistently used to clean residence halls, classrooms, offices, public spaces and other facilities and equipment.”
“The university routinely uses cleaning products designed to reduce the spread of many diseases,” ASU’s coronavirus website says. “The CDC recommends EPA-registered hospital disinfectants, and routine cleaning and disinfection procedures to prevent the spread of viruses, including the coronavirus.”
On March 2, ASU stated it will make determinations to suspend an education abroad program or prohibit international travel for faculty and staff.
“Under this temporary threshold, the University Travel Warning Policy will be suspended and appeals will be allowed only for students and faculty/staff who are already abroad,” ASU said on its coronavirus website.
Previously, all spring and summer study abroad programs to China, South Korea and Italy had been suspended in February.
“Of the very small group who have been to China during the possible exposure period or are there now, none have traveled to Wuhan,” ASU’s coronavirus website states. “The university has coordinated with public health and has reached out to each of the people who has been identified as having traveled to an area of higher risk.”