The worldwide outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus, recently named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), has had people on high alert for over a month. The WHO has declared it a global health emergency and travel restrictions are in place for residents of the United States. Many questions are circling around this new strain of coronavirus. Should you be worried? How fast is it spreading? What is your local health care organization doing about it? These are all good questions to ask, and we’re here to help fill you in on the outbreak.
So, what is the COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this coronavirus is part of a large family of viruses. These viruses are estimated to cause about one third of all cases of the common cold.
The COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus that has not been found in people before. It was first detected in Wuhan, China.
Patients confirmed with the COVID-19 infection have had mild to severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms that include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headache, sore throat or diarrhea. Patients with severe complications have had pneumonia in both lungs.
How contagious is the COVID-19?
While it is not currently clear how easily COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person, the infection is being reported in at least 30 countries internationally, including the United States.
The infection was first detected in the United States in a person who recently returned from Wuhan on January 21, 2020. Research is still being done on how contagious COVID-19 is. However, like other infections, it is spread through close contact.
The most at risk for serious complications are those age 65 or older, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
What can I do to protect myself against the COVID-19?
There is currently no vaccine to combat the COVID-19, so the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) suggests taking the same precautions recommended for avoiding colds and the flu. These precautions include:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash and then wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
What is Tri-County Health Care doing to prepare for an outbreak?
The COVID-19 has not been found in Minnesota, but seven other states, including Wisconsin and Illinois, have confirmed cases. The risk for contracting the new strain of the COVID-19 remains low for U.S. residents. Tri-County Health Care remains proactive and prepared for any contagious disease and will follow the same protocol with the COVID-19.
Patients who are experiencing symptoms – fever, coughing, shortness of breath – AND have traveled from China or have been in contact with someone that has traveled from China in the last 14 days are asked to call ahead before entering the building. This will allow Tri-County Health Care to take additional steps to keep all patients and staff safe. Registration will also ask new travel questions including if patients have traveled from China or have been in contact with someone who may have been in COVID-19 affected areas, and report symptoms they are experiencing. Patients may also be asked to wear a mask; similar to when presenting with influenza-like illnesses.
Additionally, Tri-County Health Care is working with the MDH and emergency preparedness officials to remain educated and updated on the current status of the outbreak.
How serious is this outbreak?
The majority of the outbreak has been confined to China, where there have been over 70,000 confirmed cases at a 2.7 percent mortality rate. The U.S. has had 15 people test positive for this strain of the virus.
For comparison, preliminary estimates from the CDC show that since October 1, 2019, there have been 26-36 million cases of influenza in the U.S., resulting in 14,000-36,000 deaths.
Tri-County Health Care assures the public that it will continue to monitor the outbreak. We will react according to protocols already set in place. We encourage anyone who has not received the influenza vaccine to get one at a local pharmacy or health care facility.