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Public Health Essentials

A place to highlight the work of the Snohomish Health District as well as share health-related information and tips. Have an idea or question? Drop us a line at SHDInfo@snohd.org.

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Feb 14

Coronavirus update: Addressing questions about risk and prevention

Posted on February 14, 2020 at 11:37 AM by Kari Bray

The public health response to the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues in Snohomish County and around the world. As of February 13, the global tally of cases looked to have passed 60,000, the vast majority in China. More than 1,300 people have died.

novel-coronavirus-2_1330pxAThere have been 15 cases confirmed in the U.S. The first U.S. case was announced in Snohomish County on January 21. There have been no additional cases confirmed in the county.

The virus was first identified in China in December 2019 and causes fever and respiratory illness. 

This continues to be an evolving situation. Here are answers to some key questions we have received. If you don’t see your question answered here, check out our previous blog on coronavirus.

Is the risk to the U.S. public still considered low?
At this time the risk is still considered low for the general U.S. public. We are approaching this as a serious public health threat. However, the risk of infection is dependent on exposure. People who have traveled from China in the last 14 days or who are close contacts of someone with a confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus are at higher risk, while people who have not traveled to an impacted area or been in close contact with a case are at low risk of contracting the virus.

What’s the outlook for coronavirus here?
Preventative measures have been put into place such as travel restrictions, quarantine, and monitoring of travelers from affected areas and close contacts of a confirmed case. These are being done to minimize spread of the disease. However, they are also done in anticipation of additional novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. Preventative measures may not be able to stop more widespread transmission. It is important for people to take steps to protect against the spread of this and other illnesses in their homes, workplaces, and public venues. 

Public health efforts are slowing the spread of illness and providing time to better prepare our health care systems and the general public. We are also learning more about this new virus and working to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent it. We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to provide information.

What is being done to prevent the spread of the virus here?
From January 19 to February 13, the Snohomish Health District had at least 30 people activated in some capacity to respond to coronavirus. More than 1,250 hours and other expenses to date amount to approximately $125,000, most of which is not expected to be reimbursed through existing grants. The work has included monitoring the confirmed case and his close contacts, preparing resources for potential future cases, and coordinating with local, state and federal partners. Multiple close contacts of the first case were tested for the virus and all have come back negative.
The District has also worked to provide information and resources to health care providers, emergency medical services, schools, child cares, businesses, the Port of Everett, Paine Field, and others. Materials such as guidance and fact sheets are available online at www.snohd.org/ncov2019

What is happening with travel from affected areas?
Temporary travel and quarantine measures have been put in place by the federal government to control the spread of novel coronavirus. Any U.S. citizen or resident returning to the U.S. who has been in Hubei Province and other parts of mainland China in the last 14 days is subject to health screening and up to 14 days of monitoring and/or quarantine. Flights from China are limited to 11 U.S. airports, including SeaTac. Foreign nationals who have been to China within the last 14 days are not currently allowed to enter the U.S. These measures took effect at 2 p.m. on February 2 and remained in effect as of February 13.

Travelers returning from China are being screened and advised to stay home and away from others. The Snohomish Health District is contacting and monitoring affected travelers who reside in Snohomish County. The Washington State Department of Health has planned locations for those who are subject to quarantine and cannot do so at home and is tracking the number of people who are under public health supervision, meaning those who are close contacts of a confirmed case or who have been to China within the last 14 days and returned after the new measures took effect. Updates to that number are provided online at www.doh.wa.gov/coronavirus

What is quarantine?
Quarantine is when someone who does not have symptoms of illness but has been exposed to an illness is separated from others to prevent transmission of that illness. During quarantine for coronavirus, people are asked to monitor their health, including checking their temperature regularly and watching for symptoms like cough or difficulty breathing. Public health staff are contacting individuals who are in quarantine or who are not in quarantine but have, based on travel history, been asked to stay home and self-monitor.

What if I think someone should be quarantined?
viruses dont discriminatePublic health has steps to identify, contact, and monitor people who are subject to quarantine. Do not assume that someone is ill with coronavirus or should be quarantined based on their appearance, or because they are coughing or wearing a medical mask – it is cold and flu season, and there are many reasons someone may have respiratory symptoms or may choose to wear a mask. It is important to remember that, while this virus was first identified in China, it is not linked to any ethnic or racial group. Risk is related to exposure.

If you have questions about quarantine related to coronavirus, you can contact the Department of Health hotline at 1-800-525-0127 and press #.

How can I prevent the spread of coronavirus?
Take the same precautions for novel coronavirus that you would for other illnesses, like the flu or common cold. In fact, the novel coronavirus is part of the same family of viruses as the common cold along with the more severe MERS and SARS. It is believed to spread in a similar way: through droplets from coughing or sneezing, close contact like shaking hands, or touching a surface where the virus is and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing hands.

Steps to prevent illness are:
  • Wash hands often with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch mouth, nose, or eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces. Microfiber cloths work well. When using disinfectants, follow instructions on the product label.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash hands. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. 
  • If you feel sick, stay home and avoid close contact with others. Keep sick children home from school or child care. If you’re well but someone in your household or workplace is sick, avoid close contact.
Have there been cases in schools?
We are aware that there have been false rumors on social media about students at local schools having coronavirus or being monitored for coronavirus. At this time, no youth have been tested for coronavirus in Snohomish County.

Should I be worried about traveling?
The CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China. Before any trip, check the CDC website for health-related travel notices. 

For other travel, regardless of destination, be sure to exercise normal illness prevention measures. Wash hands frequently, don’t travel while ill, and pay attention to travel advisories. 

What if I have more questions?

Comments

Mary Hardy
February 28, 2020 at 8:19 PM
This hasn't been updated in 2 weeks.
Mary Hardy
February 28, 2020 at 8:22 PM
What is our hospital bed capacity? Have the local hospitals received a test they can administer to determine if a person has the virus? What kinds of preparedness steps have Snohomish County hospitals and clinics taken?
Beth Lund
February 29, 2020 at 9:18 AM
Visitors: PLEASE go the cdc.gov website for (more) current information. Do NOT rely on the advice here as it is based on outdated information. Snohomish county: Please get your act together and get us some scientifically fact based information and advice that is up-to-date. Your delays are going to cost people their lives.
Kari Bray
February 29, 2020 at 9:23 AM
Thank you to those who have shared their questions and concerns. We understand and share them. This situation is evolving rapidly and we are committed to providing accurate information. Expect an update today. Please see the press conference from 8 p.m. February 28 on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/snohomishhealth as we work to provide an updated blog post.
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