Coronavirus prevention

Published 8:25 pm Monday, March 2, 2020

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Local officials release statement; risk remains low

POLK COUNTY—With six deaths now confirmed in the United States, Polk County officials have released a statement focused on Coronavirus prevention and saying the risk remains low locally.

Area agencies, including St. Luke’s Hospital, local health providers, the Polk County School System and Polk County government have been working closely with the Polk County Health and Human Services Agency to monitor the virus and updating preparedness plans. 

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“Even though the risk is low, Polk County HHSA and partners are taking proactive steps to be able to respond if needed,” states the joint release. 

Polk County HHSA and local partners have been meeting since the beginning of February to discuss the virus. 

“Polk County HHSA is closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and is continuing to work with partners such as Polk County Public School System, St. Luke’s Hospital, local healthcare providers, local government officials and the North Carolina Division of Public Health to prepare for the possible spread of the infection,” Polk County HHSA Director Joshua Kennedy said. “While the risk is low, we take preparedness for any event seriously.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the North Carolina Division of Public Health say the risk to North Carolinians contracting COVID-19 is low and the state does not currently have any confirmed cases. The CDC has issued travel advisories for several affected areas, however, including to China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy. 

St. Luke’s Hospital CEO Michelle Fortune said the local hospital has been working closely with its staff and community partners as the hospital reviews and tests its response plans. 

“Fortunately, we have an experienced team that maintains a high level of readiness on a regular basis,” Fortune said. 

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene said the school system continues to monitor the global situation along with community partners. 

“We continue to remind parents, students and staff that similar precautions for flu-like illnesses can apply here,” Greene said. “We are also reviewing our internal policies regarding facility cleaning as well as leveraging our school nurses to help keep staff and parents informed of good hygiene practices.” 

Polk County Emergency Management Director Bobby Arledge said his office continues to communicate with local key stakeholders concerning updates on COVID-19 and what steps local officials can take to improve their response plans. 

“The safety of our community is important and we have a responsibility to always be prepared to respond to any event,” Arledge said. 

Symptoms of the Coronavirus are similar to the flu, including cough, fever and shortness of breath. Federal officials say the Coronavirus goes straight to the lungs, and most of the people who have died from the virus are elderly or have compromised immune systems. 

Human coronaviruses can spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing; close personal contact, including touching and shaking hands; and, touching your nose, mouth, or eyes before washing your hands, according to the Polk County HHSA.

While this is still an evolving situation there are steps the public can take to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses, like the flu, the HHSA states. 

These include:

 Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time.

 Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

 Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

 Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

 Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

 Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

 Get a flu shot, it’s not too late. During this time of year, respiratory illnesses in

North Carolina are most likely due to infection with influenza or viruses that

cause the common cold.

 If you are concerned that you or a family member has fever and cough or other flu-like symptoms after recent travel to affected geographical areas, call ahead to the hospital before you go. Going to the hospital without calling ahead could expose other people to the virus.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health has established a call line at (866) 462- 3821 to address general questions about coronavirus from the public. 

More information can be found on the CDC and NCDHHS websites.