As of mid-week, the coronavirus, COVID-19, which was first reported in China late last year had spread to 109 other countries and territories, including the United States, with nearly 114,000 overall cases and more than 4,000 deaths having been reported worldwide.
As of presstime Thursday, only eight individuals in West Virginia had so far required testing for the disease, with seven of those having tested negative and the results for one still pending, according to West Virginia health officials.
Although they admit there is no way to know what the overall impact of the disease will ultimately be in West Virginia, CDC and WV DHHR health officials, working in conjunction with local health departments, believe an informed public and preventative measures will go a long way toward helping keep the number of cases from increasing within the state as well as throughout rest of the country.
“All the health departments are working under the direct supervision of the WV DHHR and the collaborative effort of the CDC to inform the public with as much up-to-date information as possible,” Mingo County Health Department Administrator Keith Blankenship said earlier this week.
Blankenship said this includes information about the disease itself (i.e., number of new overall cases added each day, those at highest risk of contracting it, how it is spread, symptoms, and what criteria the state requires for being tested), as well as preventative steps people can take to avoid getting and spreading it to others.
Blankenship said health officials believe the disease, which has been determined to have originated from bats in China, is mainly spread via various means through respiratory droplets.
Coming in contact with objects an infected person has touched or being within six feet of someone, who is coughing or sneezing, are examples of it being spread through respiratory contact, Blankenship added.
“It’s not an airborne disease in that it spreads through means like ventilation systems or just the surrounding air itself, but rather it has to be by direct respiratory contact,” he said.
Blankenship said currently there are four Level 3 travel health nations — China, Iran, South Korea and Italy--from which people entering or re-entering the United States are being directed to one of 11 different airports.
Once in the U.S., he said, these persons are being asked to voluntarily isolate themselves at a government facility until the 14-day incubation period for the disease is over and/or before returning to their homes or before traveling to their intended destinations.
“After an individual or individuals have been released to go home or to wherever they’re going, if that was in Mingo County we would be contacted by the DHHR and our role as county health department would be to continue to monitor this person or persons,” he said.
Blankenship said patients who meet the following criteria should be evaluated as a patient under investigation:
1. Fever and/or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) and is any person, including health care workers, who has had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset.
2. Fever and/or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization and has history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of symptom onset.
3. Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness (e.g., pneumonia, ARDS) requiring hospitalization and without alternative explanatory diagnosis (e.g., influenza) and no source of exposure has been identified.
4. Fever and/or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) and has a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of symptom onset and negative influenza test/multiplex PCR respiratory panel.
Blankenship pointed out that all up-to-date information released to the public (i.e., number of new suspected or even confirmed cases of the illness) will continue to be announced from either the governor or the WV DHHR Commissioner.
“As a health department, we can supply only the information we get from the CDC or DHHR,” he said.”And that’s basically because we don’t want to risk giving out wrong or unconfirmed information on this disease.”
MCHD Nurse April Hall said taking simple precautions and preventative steps, which she explained is true in all cases of infectious diseases, truly represents the old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adage.
“We can’t emphasize enough how important simple preventative measures are in cases like these,” she said. “Proper hand washing, proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, staying home if you’re sick, disinfecting surfaces, are all just commonsense things that everyone should practice.”
Hall said another ideal preventative measure people can take is to get a flu vaccination.
“Also, if you haven’t gotten one yet get a flu shot because it can help ward off diseases like this as well. We still have flu shots available and they’re free of charge,” she said.
Blankenship said anyone wanting the latest end-of-day information about the Coronavirus Disease should call the DHHR’s COVID-19 hotline at, (800) 887-4304, the MCHD at, (304) 235-3570, or visit, coronavirus.wv.gov, or, https://www.facebook.com/MingoCountyHeathDept.