Health

RIDOH Monitoring Coronavirus, Taking Measures

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As federal health officials continue to monitor the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a new form of coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is continuing to coordinate closely with healthcare providers throughout Rhode Island.

This coordination has included maintaining a robust system to receive and follow-up on illness reports from Rhode Island healthcare providers. RIDOH has also regularly sent to local healthcare providers summaries of the national situation, criteria to guide evaluation of patients, and guidance on specimen collection, testing, and reporting. Finally, RIDOH has established a Novel Coronavirus Task Force to coordinate the preparedness steps being taken throughout the Department. It includes leadership from the State Health Laboratories, the Center for Acute Infectious Disease Epidemiology, and the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response, among other areas of RIDOH.

Healthcare providers have been instructed to evaluate patients for possible novel coronavirus infection if they have a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness (such as cough or difficulty breathing), and if they have traveled to Hubei Province, China (which includes Wuhan) in the two weeks before symptom onset (or if they had close contact with a person who is being evaluated for coronavirus).

“The CDC believes the risk right now for people in the United States to be low. It is also important for people to remember that someone’s risk is closely tied to their recent travel history, and the travel histories of their immediate contacts. Someone’s nationality alone is not a risk factor for coronavirus,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “RIDOH is taking these steps with healthcare providers throughout the state to ensure that we are ready to respond to this evolving situation. Preparedness and collaboration are core functions of public health.”

Given the similarities between coronavirus symptoms and flu symptoms, and given that a lot of flu is currently circulating in Rhode Island, RIDOH has followed-up on individual illness reports. However, there have not been any confirmed cases of this new form of coronavirus in Rhode Island.

This new coronavirus strain that public health officials are currently responding to has only occurred in people since December 2019. To date, there have been five cases diagnosed in the United States and several thousand cases diagnosed internationally (the majority of them in China). Experts are still learning about the range of illness from this form of coronavirus. Reported cases have ranged from mild illness (similar to a common cold) to severe pneumonia that requires hospitalization. So far, deaths have been reported mainly in older adults who had other health conditions.

Chinese officials report that person-to-person spread of coronavirus is occurring in China. Person-to-person spread in the United States has not yet been detected. Officials are still learning more about how the novel coronavirus is spreading in China.

However, because human coronaviruses most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, Rhode Islanders are reminded to take the same measures that healthcare providers recommend annually to prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses:

  • Get your flu shot and encourage the people around you to do the same.
  • Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
  • Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

The CDC has taken a number of steps in response to coronavirus. This has included developing a diagnostic test to detect this virus in clinical specimens and conducting entry screening of passengers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan, China to five major airports in the United States: Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO). Enhanced screening measures are also in place at 20 other airports. Finally, the CDC is now recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Coronaviruses are common in many different species of animals, including camels and bats. Rarely, these coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans. Recent examples of this include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Updated information about novel coronavirus is available online at health.ri.gov/ncov.

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