According to the CDC, about 7,700 people have contracted the disease and 170 have died at this time, according to a report by Time.
There’s little to nothing to be gained from panicking in the face of this new strain of Coronavirus, but some precautions may be in order.
According to Interim CEO of Geary Community Hospital Don Smithburg, “common sense” rules to avoid spreading disease apply in the case of the new disease.
“Basically what we understand about this illness is that it is airborne and that hygiene is really important,” he said. “Hand wash, hand wash, hand wash and just be very careful about touching surfaces in public places as much as reasonably possible. If you are anywhere near someone who appears to have a cold or flulike symptoms, try to stay away. It’s really common sense kind of stuff.”
This strain of the virus — referred to by the Centers for Disease Control as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — emerged in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has since spread through its area of origin and abroad, including to the United States.
According to Geary County Health Department Director Tammy Von Bush, Coronavirus is commonly seen in animals.
“Viruses and bacteria and staff can change a little bit, become resistant to stuff,” she said. “So you can have some mutations where it wasn’t a problem before and now it becomes a problem.”
Mutation explains how something that previously hadn’t had an impact on humans could make the jump from animals to people.
Coronavirus is commonly seen in bats and camels, according to the CDC.
Coronavirus is highly contagious and has the ability to spread rapidly, even if the carrier shows no symptoms and does not realize they are sick, Smithburg said, “to the best of our knowledge.”
Because this is a new strain of an old virus, he said, information is still in the process of coming out from the CDC.
The virus, according to Smithburg, can have an incubation period of up to 14 days, prior to the onset of serious symptoms. That’s two weeks in which an infected person can spread the virus before they realize what’s going on.
“That’s why it’s so dangerous,” Smithburg said. “It’s highly contagious.”
Coronavirus can infect anyone.
“What we have learned in the literature and observing what’s happening in China — the one particular province in China — is that people young and old and in between are sick,” he said.
The CDC has not determined the spread of Coronavirus to be an epidemic or a pandemic yet, Smithburg said, but “it is accelerating fast.”
“Some have observed that it seems to be accelerating faster than the SARS virus did a number of years ago,” he said.
Smithburg said GCH is already developing a program to educate the community about the signs and symptoms of the new virus. He said it will take about a week for the hospital can gather all the relevant data from the CDC, he said, after which time GCH will begin educating the public about the virus. Smithburg said GCH planned to appoint one of its doctors to serve as a spokesperson for the community concerning Coronavirus and to hold at least one community education session.
If someone believes they might have been exposed to Coronavirus or if they fear they might be sick with it, Smithburg said they should call the Geary County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment for advice on where to go. When in doubt, he said, go to the emergency room.
At this point in time, the risk for infection in Geary County is low.
“We just need to be aware,” Smithburg said.