Officials: More coronavirus cases ‘likely’ in US AP Domestic
The coronavirus outbreak in China is raising alarm in the United States, but health officials say the risk in Pennsylvania is minimal.
The 2019 novel coronavirus causes respiratory illness and can spread much like the flu does, through coughing or sneezing, close personal contact, or by touching an object with the virus on it.
There have been no confirmed cases in Pennsylvania as of Wednesday, and the risk of the disease spreading in the United States and in the state is low, according to Brittany Lauffer, a public information officer for the PA Department of Health.
“We really are stressing that people should be more worried and more concerned about the flu,” Lauffer said, noting that over 48,000 people have been sickened by the flu so far this season in Pennsylvania.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, five cases of the coronavirus in the United States have been confirmed, mostly on the West Coast, and over 90 potential cases were being investigated as of Wednesday. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a potential case of the coronavirus is being investigated in the area.
How are health officials preparing?
Despite the low level of risk, Lauffer said the Department of Health is coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control, hospitals, county health departments to keep tabs on the coronavirus.
People should follow the Department of Health’s social media pages for up-to-date information on the virus, Lauffer said.
Dr. Ericka Powell, medical director in the emergency department at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, said they are putting infection control processes and screening mechanisms in place in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Signs are going up at WellSpan facilities asking people to tell staff and wear a mask over their mouth if they’ve recently travelled to China, or come into contact with someone who has.
They are also stressing that people should take normal precautions for respiratory-based illnesses, like coughing or sneezing into your hand and washing up afterwards, Powell said.
Flu a bigger risk to your health
Despite the attention the coronavirus has received so far, Lauffer said the flu is a more pressing threat to public health in Pennsylvania.
Flu symptoms are similar to coronavirus symptoms, which include runny nose, headache, fever, sore throat and cough. Lauffer said 48,000 people in Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with the flu so far this season, and 33 people have died.
Powell said their primary goal at the moment is to get through the flu season. On Wednesday alone, Powell said they’ve had about eight flu cases come into Good Samaritan.
“We’re obviously going to treat what’s in front of us, and what’s in front of us is the flu,” Powell said.
Although there was a spike in cases in the first week of January, Lauffer said it is still too early in the season to determine how impactful the flu will be this year.
“We still have a long flu season to go,” Lauffer said.
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