No Cases, But Local Hospitals Prep for Coronavirus

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Officials from local hospitals said this week that they have taken precautions just in case they come in contact with 2019 novel coronavirus.

Neither Stony Brook Southampton Hospital or Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead have had any confirmed cases — in fact, there has been no confirmed case of the virus in New York State to date.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has developed a laboratory test kit for use in testing patient specimens for the novel coronavirus,” said Deborah Maile, the director of infection prevention at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. The kit is being provided by the U.S. Department of Health in all states and will arrive in New York this week, she said.

“This new development will make it easier and quicker for suspected cases to be ruled out,” Ms. Maile said. “As always, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital will continue to be vigilant in monitoring all patients who present to our facility.”

Officials from the New York State Department of Health said that symptoms of the coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, include cough, fever, trouble breathing and pneumonia. These symptoms can appear in as little as two days or up to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Health officials say that coronavirus, an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is spread from person to person through coughing. Early cases of the virus involved people who reported contact with seafood and live animal markets, suggesting a possible animal source for the outbreak.

Officials suggest avoiding all nonessential travel to China, as that was the original source of the virus.

At present, there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus. However, the Health Department recommends washing hands often, avoiding close contact with sick people, staying home if you’re sick, covering your coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces often.

Dr. Susan V. Donelan, the medical director at Stony Brook Southampton, said fever and cough appear to be the most common early symptoms of the coronavirus. She added that some have described sore throat, nasal congestion, headache and occasionally some gastrointestinal complaints, such as nausea or diarrhea.

However, these general symptoms overlap with other, much more common wintertime viruses and are not specific to 2019-nCoV.

“As is the case with all hospitals, patients presenting for care are asked about recent travel. If they have any influenza-like illness, regardless of whether they have traveled, a surgical mask is placed over the nose and mouth to contain potentially infectious droplets,” said Dr. Donelan.

She added, “Only persons who have themselves traveled to China or are contacts of other persons who have recently — within two weeks — returned from China need be concerned about this novel coronavirus.”

Amy Loeb, RN, the deputy executive director at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, said the first thing the hospital has been doing is getting the message out that they’re preparing locally.

“Our biggest threat is the flu — it has already killed over 1,200 people in the country,” she said. “Corona is very similar to a flu illness. Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, cover your cough and go see your primary when you’re feeling ill.”

Ms. Loeb said the hospital is at its highest state of readiness, keeping close track of resources and any suspected cases of the virus.

“We’re prepared to respond. But, unless you have traveled to China, or have direct contact with someone who has, the likelihood of it being novel coronavirus is very low — it’s much more likely the flu,” she added.

Patricia Mupo, the director of infection prevention at the Riverhead hospital, agreed with Ms. Loeb and added that being proactive is the best medicine in this case.

As of February 10, the CDC reported 12 positive cases of novel coronavirus in the United States, as well as 68 pending tests.

Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the concerns of New Yorkers in a press conference on Friday, confirming that there were so far no confirmed cases of the virus in New York.

“We went through this before: Zika virus, Ebola, etc. But let’s have some connection to the reality of the situation — and, as the doctor said, catching the flu right now is a much greater risk than anything that has anything to do with coronavirus,” he said.

During the same press conference, Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that the Port Authority was working closely at all the airports with federal, state and local partners, including the State Department of Health, to ensure that the mandated screening of returning international travelers to the United States is handled smoothly and without incident.

The United States began implementing a travel plan that went into effect on Sunday at 5 p.m. The plan included temporarily denying entry to those who visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival to the states. U.S. citizens who are returning from China face the health screening Mr. Cotton was referring to — and up to 14 days of quarantine.

“Since the order went into effect on Sunday afternoon, at JFK, the CDC has screened 6,664 travelers; 3,100 of those travelers came on 14 flights nonstop from mainland China,” Mr. Cotton said. “The remainder of those screened, about 3,500, came on other flights and were flagged for CDC screening due to recent travel to mainland China.”

Of the 6,664 travelers who were screened, five were referred for quarantine.

“The Port Authority is prepared to assist its partners as we work to protect the public health,” the statement added.

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