State Health Department: Flu a Bigger Concern than Coronavirus

No confirmed cases have been reported in North Carolina. State health officials investigated a possible case last month; it was determined not to be coronavirus. As of Tuesday, 13 cases have been identified in the U.S.

by Rebecca Walter, Times-News, Hendersonville, N.C. / February 13, 2020

(TNS) — While news of the 2019 novel coronavirus continues to make headlines, here in Henderson County, health officials say there is no cause for alarm.

Still, the Henderson County Department of Public Health is ensuring it follows the proper procedures that arise during disease outbreaks.

Health Director Steve Smith said the battle lines are not here, but in other countries. He said the department has been through similar experiences before, including the global SARS outbreak years ago.

"This is not our first rodeo," Smith said.

At Tuesday evening's Board of Health meeting, officials said the flu is of greater concern than the newly identified coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in late December.

The health department is participating in weekly conference calls with the N.C. Department of Public Health and other partners. Health officials are also coordinating with community agencies such as EMS and emergency management.

No confirmed cases have been reported in North Carolina. State health officials investigated a possible case last month, and it was determined not to be coronavirus. As of Tuesday, only 13 cases have been identified in the U.S.

Statewide effort

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday the creation of a state Novel Coronavirus Task Force, which will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and coordinate across state agencies to protect the health and well-being of North Carolinians, according to a news release.

"Though currently the risk to North Carolinians is low, we are taking a proactive approach and are prepared for potential scenarios," Cooper stated in the release. "This task force will continue coordination between our agencies and federal partners so we can keep the public informed and safe."

The Department of Health and Human Services is working with local health departments and clinicians to evaluate any potential cases and coordinate care and testing as needed.

The risk to the general public in North Carolina, especially without history of travel to China, is still considered very low at this time, the release states.

Asheville airport impact

Asheville Regional Airport officials don't anticipate significant issues, as the airport is not a point of entry for international travelers. Director of Marketing Tina Kinsey said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting enhanced screening at major airports where international travelers from affected areas arrive into the U.S.

"As with any potential public health issue, including flu season, our team follows CDC guidelines and works closely with our local health and emergency medical services," Kinsey said.

"For coronavirus, it is recommended that if we identify a person who is exhibiting severe flu-like symptoms and who has been to China recently, certain precautions should be taken and we will immediately contact our local health department and EMS system."

How to prevent the spread of viruses

The Health Department said the public should take steps to prevent the spread of flu and the common cold, which could also help prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses like 2019-nCoV:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid exposure to others who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are ill.

Those with questions or concerns related to the coronavirus can call 866-462-3821 for more information. Press 1 for English or to ask for a language interpreter. Spanish speakers should press 2.

To submit questions online, go to www.ncpoisoncontrol.org and select "Chat."

There are also resources available on the Division of Public Health website at www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus and on the CDC's website at cdc.gov/coronavirus.

For local information, visit www.hendersoncountync.gov/health/page/public-health-advisory-coronavirus-2019-ncov. The communicable disease line is 828-694-6019.

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©2020 Times-News, Hendersonville, N.C.

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