While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency on Thursday, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said there really isn’t a cause for concern that Highland County residents could be exposed to the virus at this time.
The coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and China initially informed the WHO about cases involving the virus in December, The Associated Press said.
According to the WHO, representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China said at an International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee meeting Thursday that there have been, to date, 7,711 confirmed cases and 12,167 suspected cases involving the novel coronavirus throughout China. Of those, 1,370 cases are reportedly severe, 170 people have died, while 124 recovered and have since been released from the hospital.
Warner said in a press release that Butler County health officials and Miami University officials are monitoring two students who recently traveled to the affected region in China. These students have been isolated in their off-campus homes.
“The Butler County Health District has reported that these students continue to feel better with mild cold-like symptoms,” Warner said in the release. “Lab samples are currently at the CDC for confirmatory testing; lab results are expected to take a week.”
On Thursday, Warner told The Times-Gazette, “Because we have the two potential cases at Miami University, and there are plenty of local ties to that part of Butler County, I completely understand people being concerned and wanting to make sure they’re aware of all the latest updates and information we have, but there really isn’t a cause for concern in Highland County at this point. It’s something we’re watching very closely.”
Warner said the Highland County Health Department is working with the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health to stay up-to-date on the novel coronavirus 2019, but he’s confident in the health department’s abilities.
“This type of surveillance is something public health does on a daily basis. We’re constantly tracking disease and looking at the way different illnesses move through the community, so this isn’t something that’s out of the ordinary for us — it’s just a new disease for us to track,” Warner said. “We’re really comfortable and confident with the processes in place. Right now, we’re still learning a lot about how this virus works and how it spreads, but we’re very comfortable with the process and the steps involved; it’s something we do often.”
Warner said that in the event that a coronavirus case is identified locally, the health department will immediately be informed and will react quickly to control the spread, talk to the people impacted, identify others who may have potentially been exposed, and do what they can to mitigate those exposures.
But in the meantime, he stressed there have been no reported cases or investigations into potential contacts who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus in Highland County, though there continue to be reports of elevated flu activity.
“We don’t want to assume that because you have flu-like symptoms, you have coronavirus. If you have flu-like symptoms, you probably have the flu,” Warner said. “There’s a lot of flu going around, especially in our schools. The chances of it being coronavirus here are so slim right now. If your recent travel history does not include a stop in Wuhan, China, you are not included in the case definition or the list of people who we’re concerned about having coronavirus at this point.”
Warner and NCIRD Director Messonnier both recommended maintaining practices generally recommended during flu season.
“The best things you can do are the things we generally recommend at this time of year to prevent the spread of infectious diseases: wash your hands, cover your cough, take care of yourself and keep alert to the information that we’re providing. We’ll provide new information as it becomes available,” Messonnier said Thursday.
According to the WHO, 82 total cases have appeared in 18 other countries. While a majority of these cases involved people who had traveled to China, there are seven cases that had no history of travel to China.
According to WHO, the IHR committee stated it believes “it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk. It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.”
Though there has been one case of human-to-human transmission in the U.S. — in Chicago — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced during a media telebriefing Thursday that the immediate risk to public is low.
“Given what we’ve seen in China and other countries with the novel coronavirus, CDC experts have expected some person-to-person spread in the U.S.,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said. “We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low.”
At press time, the CDC said there are only six confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the U.S. These cases are located in California, Washington, Nevada and Illinois.
To stay informed, visit the CDC’s site, cdc.gov/ncov, and the Ohio Department of Health’s site, odh.ohio.gov.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.