Local hospitals gear up for any possible coronavirus cases

"We want to be prepared, but not be alarmist" - says local doc

Fred Bodimer
February 04, 2020 - 3:00 am
Screening For Coronavirus At Addis Ababa Bole International Airport

(Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images)


ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — A local doctor says there's no need for alarm -- following Thursday's news that we now have the first U.S. case of person to person transmission of the novel coronavirus.  The case is in a Chicago man who got the virus from his wife who brought it back from China.  

American health officials have now declared the global coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency in the United States.  U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the declaration during a public briefing from the White House on Friday afternoon. 

"Following the World Health Organization's decision to declare the 2019 novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States," said Azar.  "In accordance with the declaration, beginning at 5pm EST Sunday, February 2nd, the United States government will implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus pro-actively and aggressively.  Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.   Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in the rest of mainland China within the previous 14 days will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk."

"The President has signed a presidential proclamation temporarily suspending the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the 2019 novel coronavirus," said Azar.   "Foreign nationals other than immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States at this time.  I want to stress the risk of infection for Americans remains low and with these and our previous actions we are working to keep the risk low.​"

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield also joined the briefing, and explained that American citizens should not panic but remain cautious.

"We are being very cautious," said Dr. Alexander Garza, the chief medical officer with SSM Health and the former chief medical officer for Homeland Security.  "We want to be prepared in case this spread does increase or we learn more about the severity.  But we're also trying not to be alarmist either.  Within our healthcare system, we're putting those proper procedures in place and giving protocols to our healthcare workers based on the CDC guidelines.  We're making sure that our supplies are adequate but we certainly are not advocating for any of our healthcare workers or any of the general public to be doing things like wearing face masks or things like that. So we are being very cautious but we also want to be prepared."

 Dr. Garza says it will still look pretty much like business as usual at local hospitals and clinics but with a few exceptions.  

"The only things that they would see different is some signage that we are putting up," Dr. Garza tells KMOX.  "It's asking patients that present to any of our care centers to inform our healthcare workers if you have any of the coronavirus symptoms and if you meet the CDC criteria which is travel to China or been around somebody who has travelled to China and is sick.  If you have, please let us know so we can take the appropriate precaution."

Dr. Garza  says doctors already knew this novel coronavirus could be transmitted person to person.

"The question is how efficient can the virus transfer," said Dr. Garza.  "And so it seems now we are starting to get more evidence that it can transfer efficiently even if you haven't been to the exposed area."

What worries Dr. Garza the most right now?

"The concerning thing is there's no immunity in the population," said Dr. Garza.  "And we just don't understand as much as we need to figure out how fast does it spread and how severe of a disease is it."

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