By Beth Lawrence
Though it is unlikely Jackson County would see large numbers of residents contracting the newly discovered Wuhan coronavirus, officials are still preparing to stem an outbreak.
“It should be noted that the current risk to the general American public is considered low, but we and all other public health agencies are taking this very seriously,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy health director. “The Health Department is working closely with N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, local public health partners and health care providers to stay informed about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV. Our priorities are protecting the health of our community by providing accurate information on the virus … disseminating guidance to our healthcare providers, and identifying possible cases of 2019-nCoV.”
NCoV is a respiratory illness first recognized in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China in December. It is one of several types of coronaviruses. Novel coronavirus was first thought to have transmitted from snakes to humans because many of the original victims in Wuhan had worked in or been to animal markets, but now there is proof of person to person contact. Cases have been both mild and severe and have resulted in more than 1,000 deaths, mostly in China.
“At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Hospitals are taking proactive measures to prepare for possible cases.
“We are working closely with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure our hospital is prepared … to detect, protect and respond should anyone in our community contract or be exposed to 2019-nCoV,” said Sarah Crawford, communications director at Harris Regional Hospital.
Harris has not seen any suspected cases of the virus. There have only been a few suspected cases in the state. Those cases tested negative for nCoV.
Harris Regional Hospital is taking the following precautions: patients are being screened based on recent travel history, making personal protective equipment such as face masks and eye protection available and making hand hygiene products available throughout the hospital.
McKnight suggests anyone who suspects they have the virus not put off seeking medical attention.
“If someone is experiencing symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath and has visited Wuhan, China or has had close contact with someone who is suspected to be infected with 2019-nCoV within the past 14 days, they should seek medical attention,” she said. “Prior to going to a doctor’s office, ER, or urgent care, you should call ahead and tell the provider your symptoms.”
Health services clinicians at Western Carolina University are following CDC guidelines for evaluating patients particularly those who have traveled internationally within the last two weeks. WCU has also coordinated with Jackson County Health Department on plans to isolate and test any suspected cases that arise on campus, said Pam Buchanan, director of WCU Health Services.
Until early last week, testing could only be performed by the CDC. The Food and Drug Administration declared emergency use authorization to allow other labs to use the CDC’s Real-Time, RT-PCR, Diagnostic Panel to more quickly and easily identify nCoV. The panel tests respiratory secretions, such as nasal or oral swabs.
“On Feb. 5, the CDC made test kits available to state laboratories, and the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health immediately ordered these supplies,” said Sarah Peel, press assistant for the DHHS. “Upon receipt from CDC, the State Laboratory of Public Health will complete a regulatory-required validation process after which they will begin providing the CDC’s 2019-nCoV diagnostic test for people who meet the CDC risk assessment criteria for testing.”
As of Monday, Feb. 10, there were 398 suspected cases in the U.S. Twelve of those tested positive in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Washington. Sixty-eight suspected cases were pending test results.
Four people in Charlotte who recently returned from China are under self-quarantine and are being monitored, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department.
The U.S. sent evacuation flights to airlift Americans home from China.
Airlines around the world have stopped flights to China, imposed travel restrictions and are quarantining residents returning from China. The U.S. has forbidden foreign nationals who have visited China within the last two weeks from entering this country.