Pitkin County Public Health (PCPH) would like to provide some guidance to the community to address questions and concerns around the emerging Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). At this point, we do not have any cases identified locally or within the state of Colorado. To date, there have been 11 confirmed cases within the United States.
It is important to note that there are many causes of respiratory illness in Colorado and around the globe. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that have been associated with respiratory illness such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These viruses spread through coughing or sneezing, much like the flu. Some coronaviruses are common and regularly cause illness in the U.S. in the fall and winter.
“The most important piece of information to keep in mind is that you are highly unlikely to have acquired 2019-nCoV without travel history to the outbreak area, in addition to compatible symptoms as evaluated by your physician. Respiratory illness is normal this time of year, and is more likely attributable to other common viruses such as influenza or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV),” said Carlyn Porter, Pitkin County Public Health Epidemiologist.
2019-nCoV was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. Early on, many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person transmission is spreading.
It is normal in situations like this to have several cases being investigated while health care providers are being extra cautious looking for symptoms, and members of the public have a heightened awareness. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will provide updates if we get a positive case in our state. According to the CDC, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low for the general US public.
“While we understand that new viruses like this can be worrisome, we echo the CDC’s statement that the risk to people in the United States is low at this time. If there is a suspected case in Colorado, there are protocols in place to help ensure hospitals, health care providers, and local health agencies know what steps to take to minimize any potential spread of the virus” stated Dr. Kim Levin, Pitkin County Medical Officer.
CDPHE is taking the lead in coordinating response efforts with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and is keeping in close contact with Local Public Health Agencies like Pitkin County Public Health to provide updates, situational awareness, and notification of potential investigations. Locally, we are coordinating guidance with our partners in the hospital system, educating healthcare providers about what to look for and facilitating quick diagnosis of potential cases; educating schools and child care programs and reaching out to the public about general best practices to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
“While the work of local health departments often occurs in the background, events like this highlight the importance of a strong public health infrastructure and the critical role that the public health workforce plays in keeping our communities healthy and safe,” said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County Public Health Director.
How You Can Protect Yourself and Others
While the immediate risk of coronavirus to the American public may be low at this time, it is still highly important to remain vigilant against the spread of infectious diseases. It is peak flu season and the CDC estimates that from October through mid-January, there have been upwards of 21 million cases of flu illnesses and anywhere between 8,200–20,000 deaths resulting from the flu. The CDC recommends preventive measures to help mitigate the spread of respiratory illnesses, including:
Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Stay home when you feel sick
Get the flu vaccine
Avoid touching body orifices like eyes, mouth, and nose with unwashed hands
Properly cover your sneeze and cough, and dispose of used tissue in the appropriate trash receptacles
Frequently disinfect objects and surfaces; and
Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
“In summary, people in the U.S. are considered at risk for 2019-nCoV if they’ve traveled to China and have symptoms, or if they’ve been in close contact with an individual who has been confirmed to have 2019-nCoV. People travel to China for all kinds of reasons, such as business and vacation. You cannot tell if someone has a risk of spreading novel coronavirus by what they look like. Let’s address this new public health concern with compassion and science, not fear and xenophobia,” stated Koenemann.
To learn more about 2019-nCoV, including symptoms and prevention, visit CDPHE 2019-nCoV web page, which also includes a link to outbreak data from the CDC. People who have general questions about 2019-nCoV can call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, or by email at COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish.
MEDIA CONTACT: Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County Public Health Director - 429-6171