What You Need to Know About COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

| February 26, 2020

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There are currently no cases of the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 in North Carolina, but its potential threat is on many minds as it spreads to Asia and Europe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spurred a new wave of coverage on February 25 when officials told the New York Times that Americans should start preparing for potential community-level disruptions when—not if—the virus starts to spread in the United States.

 

The disease is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that had not been identified in humans before sickening people in Wuhan, China this year, when it likely spread from an animal source.

 

As of this writing, more than 80,000 people have been infected and around 2,700 have died from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which notes that more than 95% of cases have been in China.

 

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) has set up both a webpage and a telephone line (1-866-462-3821) for information about COVID-19.

 

On February 11, Governor Roy Cooper created a state Novel Coronavirus Task Force to work with the CDC and coordinate with state agencies to evaluate potential COVID-19 cases and coordinate care and testing. North Carolina State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson and Director of North Carolina Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry will co-chair the task force.

 

“Though currently the risk to North Carolinians is low, we are taking a proactive approach and are prepared for potential scenarios,” Gov. Cooper said in the February 11 press release announcing the task force. Though the picture is changing quickly, it is still true of this writing that the risk for contracting COVID-19 in North Carolina is low.

 

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the flu, including respiratory symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. The virus is thought to be spread via coughing and sneezing and close contact with people who are infected.

 

NC DHHS, the CDC, and the WHO all recommend the following steps to protect against contracting COVID-19 or any other contagious disease:

 

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze

 

This is also a good time to revisit the North Carolina Institute of Medicine and NC DHHS Division of Public Health’s report, Stockpiling Solutions: North Carolina’s Ethical Guidelines for an Influenza Pandemic. COVID-19 may impact individuals and communities differently from influenza, but this report includes recommendations for health care workers tasked with providing “the goods and services needed to maintain the basic functioning of society” during any pandemic.

 

Other resources:

Issue Brief: Stockpiling Solutions: North Carolina’s Ethical Guidelines for an Influenza Pandemic

Pandemic Influenza Preparedness in North Carolina (North Carolina Medical Journal)