BOONE — The worldwide spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus across east Asia, Italy and Iran has U.S. officials and local officials preparing for potential new cases domestically.
“I think we should prepare ourselves that it is likely we will see more of this virus in the U.S., and as the virus continues to spread, we will be adapting our screening protocols following Centers for Disease Control and N.C. DHHS guidance,” said Jennifer Greene of AppHealthCare. “I believe the best thing people can do right now is practice prevention measures like frequent handwashing, staying home when you’re sick and keeping distance from others who are sick.”
The preparation comes as the virus has spread to more than 35 countries, many seeing their first cases this week. More than 81,000 confirmed cases — 78,000 of which are in China where the virus was first detected — have been identified according to the World Health Organization’s Feb. 26 update.
More than 2,700 people have died from the virus since late 2019, with almost all of them in China. Most of the 44 deaths outside of China have occurred in South Korea, Iran and Italy, with none occurring in the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that due to the person-to-person transmission of the virus, it’s likely to become a worldwide pandemic.
North Carolina has not had a confirmed coronavirus case as of Feb. 26, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
With fears of the spread of the coronavirus rising, Greene stressed calm.
“We know there is more to learn about this virus and there remains some unanswered questions, and we hope community members will remain alert in their ongoing learning about this as the situation changes,” Greene said. “It’s better to focus our energy to prepare rather than panic.”
Greene said that in addition to keeping in weekly contact with the N.C. Division of Public Health at the N.C. DHHS, multiple steps have been taken in preparation to handle potential cases.
“We send out memos to the local health care providers in our community to outline clinical guidance and screening measures. We have had multiple communications with officials, schools, emergency management and others in our efforts to review how we respond to this type of incident together,” Greene said. “We have also confirmed our 24-7 contact processes since we are on call every day for this and other public health emergencies.”
“In addition, we are actively reviewing our existing plans in the case of a pandemic,” Greene said.
Currently, the CDC has warnings in place against non-essential travel for U.S. citizens to China and South Korea, which enhanced precautions against traveling to Iran, Italy and Japan.
About the 2019 novel coronavirus
According to the CDC, the current belief is that the virus causes mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms, which can appear between two and 14 days after exposure, include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“Under the temporary order issued by the (N.C.) state health director, all health care providers are required to immediately notify local public health if they suspect someone who may have travel history and symptoms that warrant testing for this virus,” Greene stated.
Currently, there is no vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus, according to the CDC.
According to the N.C. DHHS, most people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus have had mild illness and have been sent home from the hospital or have not required hospitalization.
Currently, the coronavirus quarantine period is 14 days from the last date of exposure, according to the CDC, which notes that 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses.
“Someone who has been released from (2019 novel coronavirus) quarantine is not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others because they have not developed illness during the incubation period,” the CDC states.
The strain comes from the same disease family that can cause more serious illnesses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or SARS, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS, according to the N.C. DHHS. Currently, commercial labs can’t test for the 2019 novel coronavirus, according to the N.C. DHHS.
Currently, the CDC says there is no published information saying that pregnant women and children are more at risk to contract coronavirus, although pregnant women are generally more susceptible to contracting viral respiratory infections. The CDC says that most of the coronavirus cases confirmed in China were in adults.
“No one group, ethnicity or population in the U.S. is at a higher risk for acquiring (the 2019 novel coronavirus) infection than others,” a Feb. 26 N.C. DHHS statement said.