Risk of coronavirus ‘not a serious threat’ on Peninsula

While the World Health Organization continues to monitor the number of cases of a new coronavirus worldwide, public health officials on the North Olympic Peninsula say the risk of infection in the local region is low.

“This is a serious virus, but so far, it is not a serious threat here,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, the Clallam County public health officer.

More than 28,000 cases had been confirmed in China, according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics reported Thursday. About 3,850 were considered severe, and there were 564 deaths reported, 73 of which were within the past 24 hours.

Outside of China, there were only 216 confirmed cases in 24 countries worldwide and one death, the WHO reported.

“The statistics regarding this global outbreak are changing on a daily basis, as expected,” said Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County public health officer.

“The virus appears to be more contagious but considerably less deadly than the SARS coronavirus that spread in 2003,” he added.

“We are learning new things about the virus day by day, and this will allow us to better refine our control strategies.”

Symptoms are similar to many other viruses — cough, shortness of breath and fever, Unthank said.

In Washington state, just one case had been confirmed through Feb. 6, according to the state Department of Health.

The man, who had been under quarantine at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, has been discharged but remains under home monitoring by the Snohomish Health District.

He recently returned from Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China, where the virus outbreak has been ongoing since December, the state Department of Health said.

A total of 24 people have been tested in Washington, with one confirmed case, 20 negative and three pending as of Thursday.

Two of the pending cases are in King County and the other is in Kittitas County, according to the state Department of Health.

The Department of Health is updating information daily at tinyurl.com/PDN-Coronavirus.

President Donald Trump on Jan. 31 signed a proclamation with temporary measures he said were aimed at helping to prevent the spread of infection in the United States. It went into effect Feb. 2.

Any U.S. citizen returning to the country from Hubei Province, China, 14 days prior or since that date were to be subject to health screening and up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, according to the state Department of Health.

Flights from China are limited to 11 airports in the country, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is one of them, the Department of Health said.

“Any of these travelers with signs of respiratory illness are being medically evaluated and isolated, when appropriate,” Locke said.

“Public health officials are moving to rapidly implement these protocols. We have also been working with hospitals and health care providers on response protocols since the beginning of the outbreak.”

The State Patrol’s fire training academy in North Bend has been designated a quarantine site for those who are unable to isolate themselves at home.

As of Feb. 6, there had been 12 confirmed cases in the United States, 10 of which included travel histories to China, according to the WHO.

Two cases could have included transmission from outside of China, the WHO said.

None of the cases in the United States have resulted in death.

“As it stands, the population in Clallam County is much more likely to be affected by influenza than by coronavirus,” said Unthank, who added that coronavirus is much less contagious than the measles and requires prolonged contact with an infected person in order to be transmitted.

The same measures that can protect individuals from the flu also can protect against coronavirus, including frequently washing hands, covering coughs and staying home if you are sick, she said.

Locke also recommended individuals to get their annual flu vaccine.

The state Department of Health has established a call center to address questions from the public at 1-800-525-0127.

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