PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Centers for Disease Control says it’s not a question of if, but when coronavirus starts to spread in the United States. Local officials are preparing for the possibility by outlining plans and educating the public.
The CDC expects more cases of the coronavirus to be confirmed in the U.S. in the coming days and weeks.
“No one in Pennsylvania has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Wednesday.
However, Dr. Levine said Governor Wolf isn’t taking any chances. While no one has died from the virus in the U.S., there are 57 cases nationwide. The CDC is concerned that the virus could spread across the country.
“We have provided symptom monitoring for residents of Pennsylvania returning from China. We have provided health care professionals, businesses and educational settings,” said Levine. Plus, she said the state is stocked up on supplies.
The state health department created a web page of information to educate the public about coronavirus. It lays out the symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, coughing, shortness of breath — and how coronavirus spreads — just like the cold or flu.
According to the state health department, the symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as two weeks after exposure. People with the illness report a range of little to no symptoms or being severely ill and dying.
The state health department says the virus can spread through the air by coughing and sneezing or through close personal contact. It can also be contracted by touching something with the virus on it.
As far as prevention goes, Levine said it’s as simple as washing your hands, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and covering coughs and sneezes. She said the coronavirus is known to be more contagious and will lead to more deaths than the flu. If you’re sick, the state health department advises you to stay home until you feel better.
When it comes to wearing a mask, the state health department says it’s not recommended outside of workplaces settings. They say a person-to-person spread usually happens within 6 feet and that the devices need to be available to health care workers and other people who need them.
The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all “nonessential” trips to China and South Korea. As for traveling other places outside of the country, the state health department recommends checking with the CDC.
The Allegheny County Health Department is urging businesses to also start prepping for what could come. There is a shortage of surgical masks and the N95 respirator. KDKA called multiple pharmacies around Pittsburgh and they were all out. Amazon isn’t an option either. The respirator is listed as currently unavailable.
Allegheny County Health Department says it has “daily” communication with both state and federal health agencies about staying proactive in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. They are also monitoring the situation closely and working with local hospitals, clinics and Pittsburgh International Airport.
At the start of the year, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich began holding regular meetings to plan for the possibility of coronavirus in the city.
Part of Public Safety’s readiness plan includes updating the city’s 2014 Pandemic operational plan. During the update, contingency plans were added to ensure there would be enough first responders if necessary.
The city’s first responders have also been trained to identify possible cases of coronavirus and were given “enhanced personal protection kits” that include face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and protective eyewear.
Hospitals are preparing, focusing on screening for coronavirus.
Currently, the procedure for someone coming to the emergency room with a cough, fever or flu-like symptoms is to first get a mask, and then at the check-in desk, they’ll be asked questions about travel. If there’s any possibility of COVID-19, they’re brought directly back to an isolation room.
Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 would be admitted to airborn isolation rooms.
Even on a smaller scale, local institution like colleges are preparing for coronavirus, some going as far as canceling study abroad programs.
Robert Morris University is canceling all of its faculty-led study abroad programs out of an abundance of caution as the coronavirus continues to spread. In a letter to students, faculty and staff, RMU says that study abroad programs for the rest of the spring semester and those scheduled in May will be canceled.
Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh says they’re monitoring coronavirus across the world and at this time, they don’t anticipate making changes to summer study abroad programs outside of China. Pitt notes that no final decisions have been made.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, who specializes in infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness, spoke to students and faculty from several universities in the Oakland area about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
“Right now in the United States, you are more likely to get influenza in the coronavirus,” he said. “The number of cases is still low and we are still in the flu season.”
While there is a mask shortage, Dr. Adalja says: “The general public does not need to wear a mask right now and it’s actually taking the supply away which we need for hospitals and sick patients.”
There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases reported in Pennsylvania.