In virtually no time at all, the deadly coronavirus outbreak half a world away in central China is at our back door as a pandemic disease threatening United States communities like Bucks and Montgomery counties.
There are no confirmed cases to date locally (the good news) but it could rapidly be a different story (the bad news). I checked local areas and found Montgomery County’s actions typical against the presence of the pneumonia-like disease that has killed hundreds in China and sickened many including in the United States.
The coronavirus outbreak is serious -- and it felt scarier when I recalled the SARS (Acute Respiratory Syndrome) of 2003 when more than 770 people worldwide died of the illness and eight Americans contracted the illness, a cousin of the Wuhan coronavirus. Don’t travel, authorities have told those living in today’s affected area. But 11 million now live in the central China city where coronavirus is believed to have started, and the new outbreak is happening during the busy Lunar New Year period when three billion trips are expected to be made.
The local look: Montgomery County’s Office of Public Health is “working closely” with health departments in Philadelphia and the state capitol, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The threat of Montgomery County residents being infected with this new coronavirus is low unless they have traveled to the Wuhan area of China or have been in contact with someone from Wuhan who has been ill with suspected syndromes or has been confirmed positive,” said John Corcoran, communications director. “We’re reviewing and updating all relevant emergency service plans.”
Common coronavirus can cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, like the common cold. Transmission occurs during coughing and sneezing or other close contact, and symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing about two to 14 days after exposure.
Montgomery County health officials said residents should take the following steps to prevent respiratory illness like coronavirus and influenza:
- Get a flu shot;
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Stay home when sick;
- Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing;
- Avoid close contact with those who are ill, and
- Take flu antivirals as a precaution.
“This is an evolving situation,” said Corcoran.