City prepares in unlikely event of local coronavirus outbreak

WESTFIELD- The Board of Health Feb. 12 discussed the potential impact of the coronavirus as the outbreak continues to grow in China but remains contained in the United States.

Public Health Director Joseph Rouse said during the Board of Health meeting Wednesday that the Health Department is frequently updated on the status of the outbreak by the Center for Disease Control and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“So far they have been pretty good at demystifying things for us,” said Rouse. “We are in a very low-risk category even though we did have that one case in Massachusetts.”

A Boston college student was confirmed to have the virus earlier this month, but the patient was quarantined and expected to recover. Fourteen people have been infected with the virus in the United States.

Rouse praised the U.S. response to the outbreak, saying that federal health officials have been doing a great job controlling it.

In China, the number of cases continues to grow rapidly, with a reported 60,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.

Rouse said that those who believe they may have the virus or are at risk of having it should remain home and contact their doctor, especially if they have recently travelled to China.

Rouse noted the importance of the coronavirus’ relatively lengthy incubation period. The virus can incubate in a person without symptoms for as long as two weeks, though the average incubation time is 3-7 days.

“Now there are so many unknowns about this coronavirus right now. As the information is being updated, they know basically the mode of transmission which is through coughing and sneezing,” said Rouse. “What they don’t know yet is how viable it is on environmental surfaces and if it can be contracted that way. They’re still trying to figure this stuff out and obviously they are working on a vaccine.”

Rouse said he is reviewing the Westfield Health Department’s capabilities for emergency preparedness. He said that they are trying to prepare the logistics of a mass immunization if it becomes necessary and if a vaccine can be made.

Rouse said that people should first get their flu shot before they come for any possible coronavirus vaccine.

“That’s the panic we had in the ER as soon as that was out. Everybody wanted to be tested and thought they had it,” said Board of Health Chair Juanita Carnes.

Carnes said that Baystate Health is not yet testing people for the virus.

Rouse said that influenza is to the point of near-epidemic status this year. According to data from the World Health Organization, up to 650,000 people die of the flu worldwide each year.


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