(Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to more accurately reflect the WHO’s estimated fatality rate for COVID-19).
While the national media is full of news reports about the coronavirus—known among healthcare experts as COVID-19—no one in Kentucky has tested positive for the disease.
The Mercer County Health Department is advising the public that the best way to prevent catching COVID-19 or the flu, which is still raging, is to avoid being exposed and to avoid exposing others.
“It’s stuff we should be doing anyway,” said Kathy Crown-Weber, director of the health department. The advice includes commonsense things, like washing hands, getting enough rest, staying home when sick and getting a flu shot.
“I am trying to promote good hygiene, which we should do everyday, not just when we get scared,” Crown-Weber said.
Among those terrified of COVID-19 are the traders on Wall Street. The disease was blamed for last week’s stock market collapse, the worst since October 2008. While the market seems to have partially recovered from last week’s sell-off, there is still a lot of uncertainty as the disease seems to spread from China, where it was first reported, to other parts of the world. While the World Health Organization has calculated the fatality rate for COVID-19 is 3.4-percent, experts with the agency believe that rate will declined as more cases are reported. Many of those who have died had other underlying health issues. Most of those who do have the disease only experience mild symptoms.
“To people who have no underlying health issues, it truly just is a bad cold,” Crown-Weber said. “We’re not all going to die.”
While Mercer County may seem far away from national news like COVID-19, the community has connections to the outbreak.
Corning has a plant in Wuhan, the city of 11-million people in Central China that has served as the epicenter of the outbreak of COVID-19.
Corning employees recently returned from a trip to Wuhan and were placed in federal quarantine in California for 14 days in January.
“None of them tested positive for, or displayed symptoms, of COVID-19,” said Gabrielle Bailey, media relations manager at Corning. “We have been in close contact with our employees worldwide and continuously monitor the situation with COVID-19. The safety and well-being of our employees is always our first priority.”
Bailey said Corning is working closely with customers and suppliers to minimize the impact of the disease.
Crown-Weber noted that while no one has tested positive for COVID-19, over 100 people in Mercer County have tested positive for the flu.
“The flu is widespread in this area,” Crown-Weber said. “If you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the flu.”
She recommends everyone get a flu shot, if not for their own protection, then for the people around them, especially children too young to be vaccinated.
Here are some other everyday preventive actions people can do to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60-percent alcohol.
Crown-Weber noted that washing hands is important for people who are caring for the ill.
“You want to do a lot of washing if you’ve been that close to them,” she said.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick. By close contact, officials mean handshakes, hugs, kissing and sharing cups or eating utensils.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Stay home when you are sick, except to seek medical attention if symptoms (high fever, shortness of breath) become severe. Consider telemedicine phone apps for non-emergency medical care.
The advice to stay away from doctors’ offices when you are sick may seem counter-intuitive, but Crown-Weber said if you start to feel ill, there is no reason to rush to the emergency room.
“‘I don’t feel good’ is not a good reason to go to the ER,” she said. There are several tele-health apps available on smart phones that can provide medical advice from trained health care professionals. Some of the apps allows the user to talk to a doctor who can write prescriptions. Crown-Weber said by the time the patient drives to the pharmacy, the prescription has already been filled. Some insurance carriers offer telemedicine, she said.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands after coughs or sneezes.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects (phones, door handles) and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for using facemasks.
Facemasks should be used only by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone with the virus in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
Crown-Weber does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. “They are only for people who are sick or who are caring for the sick,” she said.
For more information on COVID-19, refer to the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html.