The Coronavirus: Tri-County Health Care is prepared

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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?Coronavirus blood test in hospital laboratory

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 Side view of young woman with protective coronavirus face mask in town, she standing in front at the bus stop and waiting for her transport after work.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.

Gross! Hand hygiene and other germy facts

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Your hands are gross. It’s a fact of life. You touch hundreds of surfaces a day, all of which contain their own little worlds of nasty germs. But you might not realize just how gross your hands really are.

Take a look:

  • Germs can survive for up to three hours on your hands.
  • There are between 2 to 10 million bacteria on your fingertips and elbows.close up of 3d microscopic blue bacteria
  • The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet.
  • When you don’t wash your hands, you transfer germs to the food and drinks you eat.
  • Your hands spread 1,000 times more germs when they are damp than when they are dry.


Why are germs so bad?

A germ is a tiny organism that can cause diseases and illnesses. Germs can get on your hands after you use the toilet, change a diaper, handle raw meats, or touch any object that has germs on it. When germs are not washed from your hands, they can be passed from person to person. By killing these germs, we lower the likelihood that someone will get sick.

This is important for a number of reasons. For one, nobody wants to be sick, and some of those illnesses could become quite serious. Secondly, those who get sick could be affected financially.

Another reason is that the more people who get sick, the more antibiotics are prescribed, often unnecessarily, according to Cheryl Houselog, infection preventionist at Tri-County Health Care. The more antibiotics you take, the more bacteria builds a resistance to those antibiotics, meaning they will not work as well to fight off that infection. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in the U.S.

Other “fun” germ facts:

  • One germ can multiply into more than 8 million germs in one day.
  • Nearly 80 percent of illness-causing germs are spread by your hands.
  • Your remote control is a top carrier of bacteria.
  • There are more germs on your phone, keyboard and cutting board than on a toilet seat.
  • One in five people don’t wash their hands, and of those that do, only 30 percent use soap.
  • When you flush the toilet, germs can spray up to 6 feet.Hygiene. Cleaning Hands. Washing hands.
  • Purses and handbags have up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch, and 30 percent of them contain fecal (poop) bacteria.


Fighting those germs

Now that you’ve been effectively grossed out by the facts above, you’ll need to know how to kill some of those germs that live on your hands to keep you and others safe from illness.

Other than getting vaccinated, the number-one thing you can do is wash your hands, Cheryl said. Washing your hands is one of the best defenses you have against infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it this way: When you wash your hands, you can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as a cold or flu.

So what’s the best way to clean your hands? Simply use soap and water! The CDC has this down to a science:

  • Get your hands wet, turn off the water, and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to lather up the soap. Clean every surface from between your fingers and under your nails to your palms and back of your hands.
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you need a way to time it, sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice through.
  • Turn the water back on and rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel and use the towel to turn off the water.

However, if you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol (as long as your hands are not visibly soiled or dirty).

In fact, primary care providers have begun using alcohol-based sanitizers. That’s the foam spray you see them use as they enter your exam room. The CDC cites many studies that show these hand sanitizers work incredibly well in clinical settings.

For more information about hand washing from the CDC, go here.


Cover your coughlittle boy, big sneeze.

Your hands aren’t the only way that germs are spread. Germs of respiratory illnesses, such as the cold or flu, can be spread through coughing or sneezing into the air or on your hands.

Did you know that when you sneeze, you shoot droplets with up to 100,000 bacteria and viruses into the air at 100 mph? And those droplets can stay in the air for up to 10 minutes!

That’s why it’s important to practice proper cough etiquette. Try to sneeze or cough into a tissue, a sleeve or your elbow if possible, and turn away from other people while doing so. Finally, wash your hands once you’re done.


Flu season in Minnesota begins ramping up near the end of December and beginning of January, so it’s a good time for everyone to start doing their part to prevent the spread of infection by washing their hands, practicing cough etiquette, and getting vaccinated.


Sources: CDC, Unicef, Med One Group