Should locals worry about the coronavirus? Here are the precautions being taken in the area

As the coronavirus continues to garner international attention, people in the local area are also starting to educate themselves on the potential risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a Level 3 Warning alert for Wuhan, China and advised travelers to avoid the area. Since then there have been confirmed cases of the virus in Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois, according to the CDC’s updated map.

In Virginia, three people have been tested for the virus: two in the central region and one in the northern region. As of Tuesday, two of the three tests have come back negative, according to the CDC.

“Right now this is a serious public health threat because it’s a new virus but based on current information the immediate threat is considered low,” said Dr. Lilian Peake, epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health. “At this point, we’re just monitoring what’s going on.”

However, that doesn’t mean people in the area aren’t taking precautions and educating themselves about the virus. 

William & Mary recently sent information to students about the symptoms and how the virus spreads, according to a post on the college’s website. University officials said in the post said they would continue to monitor the situation and is ready with an infectious disease protocol if needed.

Sentara Healthcare also announced it was monitoring the situation. 

“We have enacted our robust emergency management protocols and are standing up a dedicated team to monitor and follow the coronavirus closely,” the organization said on their website. 

Kelly Kennedy, a representative for Sentara Healthcare, said there are currently no potential patients with the virus at any of Sentara’s locations. However, should there be patients with the virus, she said the hospital is prepared with a team of highly-skilled staff ready to safely care for patients while ensuring there is zero exposure. 

In the meantime, the hospital is also following guidance from the VDH and the CDC to identify potential patients. This means looking at their symptoms, their travel history to China as well as if they have had close contact with a recent traveler from an infected area.

Kennedy said the infectious disease doctors were not immediately available to comment.

The CDC describes the virus as a respiratory illness with symptoms including mild to severe fever, cough and difficulty breathing. In addition, the virus appears to be spreading from person-to-person and there are not currently any specific antiviral treatments recommended for the virus.

Peake said the virus is part of a family of coronaviruses but the new strand had been previously unidentified. In the coronavirus family, the virus typically circulates among animals but there are seven that can now crossover to infect people.

She said most of those will cause mild symptoms, but there are now three that can cause severe illness.

“We know from the past how other types of coronaviruses behave, so that’s how we monitor what’s going on now,” Peake said. “But you can’t totally predict how a new virus will behave.”

As with any respiratory illness, prevention means thoroughly washing hands and covering coughs. Peake also suggests getting the flu shot because it’s a preventative medication.

Peake said health officials across the state are staying up-to-date on information and disseminating it to the public. At the moment, residents in Virginia shouldn’t be too worried unless they have recently been to China or have been exposed to someone who has traveled to that country.

“At this point, we are just learning about the virus,” Peake said. “We’re using lessons learned from past outbreaks and learning as much as we can and doing what we can to prevent transmission.”

To learn more about the virus in Virginia, visit VDH online.

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