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Local health department keeps vigilant for coronavirus, though risk remains low

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — As the world watches an outbreak of COVID-19, known as coronavirus, the Rowan County Health Department is closely monitoring virus as well, said Meredith Littell, Public Health nursing director.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Division of Public Health, the risk of North Carolinians contracting COVID-19 — coronavirus — is low. And the state currently does not have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

But the North Carolina Division of Public Health has recommended the state’s residents continue taking precautions to protect themselves and other from the spread of respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus.

“NCDHHS has been coordinating with the CDC and state and local partners to prepare for COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in China,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer. “We are asking North Carolinians to continue to plan ahead for the possibility of the spread of the infection, while the risk for North Carolina is currently low.”

The signs and symptoms of coronavirus may include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Littell said people should do the following to reduce any chances of contracting the virus: 

Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

 Limiting exposure of your nose, mouth and eyes to unwashed hands can help to protect from the spread of all germs and illnesses.

• Avoid close contact with people who are ill and stay home if you are ill.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

Littell recommended having a plan in case people need to miss work or other responsibilities due to personal illness or to care for a sick family member.

Local pharmacies are also feeling the impact of public attention on coronavirus. Moose Pharmacy of Salisbury Pharmacist Krista Monroe said the store has been out of surgical masks for a week or two. Monroe said she doesn’t think it’s time to panic about the coronavirus.

State Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry, who co-chairs the Governor’s Task Force with Tilson, said he would rather be over prepared to protect the health and well-being of North Carolinians.

“We have been working closely with our Public Health and Office of Emergency Medical Services partners to ensure our preparedness for all scenarios as it relates to COVID-19 infection,” Sprayberry said.

At Novant Health facilities, employees have set up protocols for patients that may have come into contact with coronavirus, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer.

“Across Novant Health, we have standard protocols in place to ensure we are prepared to care for patients who may have come into contact with emerging infectious diseases,” Priest said. “This includes a patient travel history screening and a mask-wearing policy for certain presenting symptoms. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are working closely with national, state, and local health departments to protect our patients and team members.” 

But Rowan County residents also should remain cautious as flu season continues on, Monroe said. From Sept. 29 to Feb. 22, North Carolina reported 68,356 cases of Influenza-like illness. The week of Feb. 16, the state reported 4,916 cases of Influenza-like illness and 15 influenza related deaths. Compared to the previous reporting week, the Rowan County Health Department has noted a decrease in cases of Influenza-Like Illness.

The flu has a vaccine unlike the coronavirus, which is still available.

“The flu is a greater concern in the community right now than the coronavirus,” Monroe said.

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