By Greg Bird
COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavius, has been a major topic of discussion as the illness continues to spread across the globe. As the mysterious strain of flu dominates headlines, misinformation and rumors abound about this potentially deadly illness. State health officials say there is little to fear locally about the virus, but encourage common sense approaches to protect yourself from becoming infected.
The Lake Cumberland Area Health District posted vital information on the virus on their website, hoping to spread awareness and factual information about the strain. “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is closely monitoring the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and which continues to expand,” the statement reads. “Chinese health officials have reported tens of thousands of infections with 2019-nCoV in China, with the virus reportedly spreading from person-to-person in parts of that country. Infections with 2019-nCoV, most of them associated with travel from Wuhan, also are being reported in a growing number of international locations, including the United States. Some person-to-person spread of this virus outside China has been detected. The United States reported the first confirmed instance of person-to-person spread with this virus on January 30, 2020.”
(previous coronaviruses such as SARS and MRSA have arisen in the past, COVID-19 is a new strain of the virus)
Kentucky has been lucky so far as no confirmed cases of the virus have been reported. According to the latest report from the Center for Disease Control 90 people have tested positive across 10 states, with 17 hospitalized and nine dead. The victims all came from Washington State.
Adrionna Simpson, Nurse Practitioner at Hope Primary & Urgent Care in Stearns said the office has had a lot of questions from patients about the virus, but most are suffering from the common flu virus.
“A lot of people who come in with the flu are concerned about the coronavirus,” She said. “Typically it is just the common flu. The coronavirus affects the respiratory system more and is different from the body aches associated with the flu.”
Still, Simpson advises anyone who may feel like they have the flu to come in and get checked. Flu season is still in full swing in Kentucky, with over 10,000 cases and 21 deaths from the virus in the state.
“We would certainly advise them to come in, we are prepared,” Simpson said. “We have a fully equipped lab.”
Governor Andy Beshear held a press conference last week to discuss how Kentucky is preparing for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, and to inform the public on how to best prevent catching the virus.
Beshear said the State Health Operations Center has been activated at Level Two, which means the state is focused on preparedness, planning and response activities.
“I want to reassure everyone that your state government, your local health departments, everyone is prepared and is ready to address this issue head-on,” Beshear said, “and I feel very strongly that our work will have us prepared if and when we see a confirmed case.”
“It’s important for the public to know that even though Kentuckians are at low risk for this virus, our state and local health experts have been working hard to ensure the public is educated and that reports of patients that meet criteria for COVID-19 are being properly tested and treated to reduce potential harm,” Gov. Beshear said. “The best advice for Kentuckians to follow is not new advice – get your flu shot, stay home if you are not feeling well and practice good hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly.”
The elderly and people with pre-existing conditions are more susceptible to the virus.
More than 100 citizens in the state who had been to China were being monitored for signs and symptoms of the virus in the Louisville area, but no confirmed cases have arisen.
Two of the patients were tested for the virus, but the test results came back negative according to Dr. James Frazier, vice president for medical affairs at Norton Healthcare in Louisville.
CHFS Acting Secretary Eric Friedlander said that his team has developed several resources to support local health departments, clinicians and the general public, including a Kentucky-specific website, kycovid19.ky.gov.
“While there is a low immediate health risk, we know that because Kentucky is part of the global health community, we may see positive cases here,” he said. “I am proud that our local and state health experts are prepared to respond quickly, calmly and thoroughly.”
Dr. Steven Stack, Department of Public Health (DPH) commissioner, said that federal guidelines emphasize rapid response for monitoring individuals who develop symptoms and are identified as “at risk.”
“The Kentucky Department for Public Health is working closely with the CDC and local partners to address the COVID-19 response and remains vigilant with active surveillance measures in place,” he said. “This virus is a serious public health concern, however the risk to the general public at this time in Kentucky remains low and we have no confirmed cases and no persons under investigation. If the situation changes and we start seeing person-to-person transmission in Kentucky, we have plans in place to help reduce the impact of diseases like novel coronavirus.”
“We understand that some people are worried about this virus and how it may impact Kentuckians,” Dr. Stack said. “We are carefully monitoring the evolving situation and taking necessary precautions. Kentucky has a strong disease surveillance system in place that includes partnerships with hospital and clinic systems as well as local health departments and we are committed to this mission of protecting the health and safety of all Kentuckians.”
Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have recently traveled to China and other countries currently affected by COVID-19, or have been in contact with someone who has traveled to affected areas should first contact their local health department.
As with any virus, especially during the flu season, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your health and those around you:
Get a flu shot from your Local Health Department or your family provider.
Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then properly dispose of.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.