Nassau County prepares for new coronavirus

According to an updated Feb. 4 report by CNN, a total of 490 people worldwide have died from the coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Northwell Health said it has activated its emergency operations center in Great Neck and taken other precautions in light of the spread of a worrisome new coronavirus in China and elsewhere.

The virus, first detected in Wuhan, China, “can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever.  It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal,” according to the World Health Organization.

According to a report by CNN on Tuesday, the global death toll stood at 490, with the number of confirmed cases across the world exceeding 24,000, with most in China.

In the United States, only 11 cases of confirmed infection with the coronavirus, designated 2019-nCoV, had been counted as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials announced on Jan. 27 that an individual with a possible case of the disease that “passed through” Nassau County tested negative. In a statement released on Jan. 27, Gov. Cuomo said, “While the risk for New Yorkers is currently low, we are still working to keep everyone informed, prepared and safe.”

“We understand people are concerned, but we are urging everyone to stay calm as the risk to Nassau County is low at this time,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran during a press conference on Jan. 24.

Northwell Health’s chief communications officer, Terry Lynam, said: “Northwell has activated its emergency operations center, which is a Great Neck-based facility that allows us to be more prepared if and when an epidemic hits the area. Our staff, especially those who deal with the elderly and children, have been briefed on heightened safety protocols that have been enforced.”

Lynam said the public response to the coronavirus epidemic can only be rivaled by H1N1, an influenza virus that most in 2009 referred to as “swine flu.”  While he said it is premature to see how the number of infected patients compares between the two diseases, Lynam said health care officials everywhere should be taking precautions.

“On average, our staff goes through a little more than 16,000 paper masks, also known as N95 masks, in the month of January,” he said. “This past month, we went through 35,000 across our entire health care system.”

Anthony Santella, associate professor of public health at Hofstra University, said the general public reaction is not one that has been prevalent in the United States for some years. While he believes precautions are necessary, some come with a stigma.

“People are so focused on this coronavirus because there are now cases that are slowly making their way into our way of life, and that scares people,” Santella said. “But one thing I have noticed is the immediate prejudice and xenophobia towards the Chinese people or those of Asian descent. Ignorance such as that is just as bad, if not worse than the disease.”

According to CNN, 65 people on Tuesday alone died from the virus in China.  Santella said there is a fine line between a necessary precaution and blatant racism, but suggested that spreading the message of basic hygiene and health etiquette in public is vital.

“If there is a silver lining to all of this, it’s that the importance of washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough, staying home from work if you’re sick, all of it, will come into light now,” Santella said. “Stay home, and stay rational.”

“Avoiding public transportation and large crowds as much as possible is also advised,” Lynam said. “Throughout the day we touch so many things that can get us sick, the best thing anyone can do is just take the time, and wash your hands.  Some diseases will find their way here, but if a majority of people are conducting the basic steps of personal hygiene, it will be easier for everyone to combat.”


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