As public health officials warn of an inevitable spread of coronavirus in the United States, Clark County Public Health continues to prepare for a local case.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a press conference to address the recent spread of coronavirus from China. There are now nearly 1,000 cases in South Korea, and there have been at least 15 deaths in Iran. The CDC has recorded 57 cases in the U.S., with no deaths reported.
Fourteen of the U.S. cases occurred on a Diamond Princess cruise ship. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said there’s a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States,” according to a Washington Post story.
Last month, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick told The Columbian that Public Health is “paying a lot of attention” to coronavirus, and it would be prepared for a local outbreak.
He also acknowledged that the risk to Clark County was low at the time, as it takes exposure to a case to catch the virus, and there were no cases nearby — the closest was in Everett. Still, Melnick said providers need to be prepared for people traveling to Clark County from outbreak locations, or returning to the county from trips near outbreak locations.
In an email, Clark County Public Health Public Information Officer Marissa Armstrong said the agency “is monitoring the evolving situation and taking steps to prepare for a potential local case of COVID-19,” which is short for coronavirus disease 2019; there are many strains of coronavirus, which can cause respiratory tract infections and sometimes be lethal.
Armstrong said Public Health is in regular contact with the Washington health department “to stay up to date on the outbreak and the latest state and federal guidance.” Clark County Public Health’s communicable disease team is also readying “internal processes and tools, such as databases for monitoring and identifying points of contacts at other institutions (for example schools and hospitals),” she said.
Public Health has also provided information to regional providers for specimen collection and testing guidelines, and met with schools to make sure they have the resources they need in the event of an exposure. There are plans to meet with local health care providers to discuss processes and testing soon, Armstrong said.
Symptoms of coronavirus include a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. Anyone who has traveled to Wuhan City in China or another outbreak area and has symptoms, should contact a local health care provider. In January, Melnick said people should not show up at the local emergency room unexpectedly. That could further spread the virus.
“We need to be really vigilant at this point,” he said.