Health officials: Coronavirus should not be cause for panic

There are six new reported cases of the coronavirus in the LA County as of March 4. Courtesy of Matthias Mueller
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While health officials want the general public to take the necessary steps to protect themselves against diseases, the coronavirus should not be a cause for panic, they said Monday. 

“The coronavirus should be a cause of concern, but not alarm or panic,” Jonathan Truong, an infectious disease physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said in a statement Monday. “The quarantine process of people who are being evacuated from China has been effective in controlling the spreading of the disease in America. As such, we need to keep things in perspective.”

This particular coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19 and originating in Wuhan, China, is part of a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness and present symptoms in infected people such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The death toll reached 1,700 in mainland China over the weekend, according to the country’s National Health Commission.  

There is only one case of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, a non-resident traveler from Wuhan City, from which “there has been no subsequent community transmission of the virus,” according to the Department of Public Health in a news release. 

On Sunday, 400 Americans, including two Santa Clarita residents, aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship received a notice that they could evacuate the ship and fly back to America, where they will face another 14-day isolation. 

Chances are slim when it comes to catching the coronavirus, unless one has returned from China, has been in close contact with a person who has been infected by the disease or if one is taking care of someone with the disease without wearing protective gear, according to Kaiser Permanente officials in a news release Monday.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, local health officials want the community to know they are prepared for any potential, at-risk cases. 

“We are fortunate enough to have a rapid response for our residents,” said Dr. Bud Lawrence, a medical director for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s Urgent Care Center. “It’s important to understand there’s a robust system to identify these patients and quarantine them to help prevent the spread. For us, every hospital in the county has been educated in terms of what to look out for.” 

Medical doctors are looking for travel history, respiratory symptoms and fever and “if that person is potentially at risk, we immediately, in our city, call the Department of Public Health and discuss with our staff what’s the best course of action. If they are at risk, in some cities, including in Los Angeles, we’re now able to say, ‘Hey, this person is at risk,’ and we can test them without having to wait for the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). There’s a much more rapid response,” said Lawrence. 

Lawrence and other health officials reiterated that it is important to prevent the transmission of any virus, not just the coronavirus. In fact, between 200,000 and 400,000 Americans get hospitalized every year for complications from the flu and about 60,000 die from the disease as a result. 

The simplest, most vital precautions residents can take, according to Lawrence: hand-washing and avoid contact with people who are coughing. 

The Department of Public Health also recommends: 

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Limit close contact, like kissing and sharing cups or utensils, with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you do not have a tissue, use your sleeve (not your hands).
  • Facemasks are most effective when used appropriately by health care workers and people who are sick.
  • Get a flu immunization to prevent influenza if you have not done so this season.

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