Q&A with Jeffco Public Health about the coronavirus

Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response Supervisor talks virus risks

Posted

UPDATE: On March 5 the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared the first two presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state.

It is a difficult task to surf the web or turn on the TV and not see or hear about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — and during this time, it is important to know what the facts are.

COVID-19 likely jumped to humans from an animal, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of the virus include shortness of breath, a cough and a fever.

Jefferson County Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response Supervisor Christine Billings answered questions from Colorado Community Media about the disease, what Jefferson County Public Health is doing to prepare for a potential outbreak and more.

Is COVID-19 in Colorado?

There is an expanding global outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus, named COVID-19. While most COVID-19 cases outside of China have been associated with travel to or from China, community spread is being detected in a growing number of countries — including Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. On Feb. 26, the CDC confirmed the first possible instance of community spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.

As of Feb. 27, there are more than 80,000 cases worldwide, including more than 2,700 deaths. In the U.S., there have been 60 cases — most of which were among people who were evacuated from Wuhan, China and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship — and no deaths to date. There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado.

Editor's Note: The first cases of Coronavirus in Colorado were announced on March 5.

What can someone do if exposed to COVID-19?

If you have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 — or you have been in China or another country where there is widespread COVID-19 infection within the past two weeks and you develop a fever, cough or have difficulty breathing — we recommend that you seek medical care right away.

Call your health care provider or the emergency room before you go, so you don't risk exposing others to the illness. Tell them your symptoms and that you suspect you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 or recently traveled to China. Your health care provider will give you instructions on how to get care and what to do next.

How has Jeffco prepared for a major outbreak?

Even though there have been no cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County or Colorado, and though the immediate risk to most people is low, Jefferson County Public Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and our health and medical partners are prepared. Jefferson County Public Health has conducted all-hazards planning for nearly two decades, and we are highly trained to respond to emerging threats just like this.

Since the start of the outbreak, we have been taking a proactive approach working closely with CDC, CDPHE and other partners to:

• Provide timely information about the outbreak to our community.

• Share guidance with health care providers so they know how to safely care for people with possible COVID-19 infection.

• Support local hospitals and other health and medical partners with requests for information and logistics.

• Actively monitor the situation and refine our response and recovery plans.

We have also activated our Jefferson County Public Health Emergency Operations Plan and are using the incident command system to allow for enhanced and coordinated response efforts. Basically, this allows us to secure the resources we need and utilize the full breadth of subject matter expertise that we have across our workforce to prepare. This structure also allows us to align efforts with other response partners.

How does coronavirus compare with influenza?

Much like influenza, COVID-19 is spread through coughing or sneezing, can be spread person-to-person and is known to cause severe disease and death in some people. Right now, Colorado has no cases of COVID-19 and the number of cases in the U.S. is still small, so the immediate risk of transmission is low.

However, it is still cold and flu season, and people are much more likely to encounter those viruses in their daily lives. A typical flu season in Colorado will see thousands of hospitalized cases and sometimes several pediatric deaths.

Is there reason at this time for public concern?

As I mentioned, the immediate risk of COVID-19 to Coloradans is low. Right now, the greatest risk of infection is for people in China and people who have traveled to China or other countries with widespread COVID-19 infection.

It's normal to feel worried during times like this, but the best thing we can all do now is remain calm. Planning ahead means you don't have to panic if there is an outbreak. That's why I reiterate to our community members that while COVID-19 is not an immediate risk, we should all use this time to learn about the virus, know the steps we can take to protect ourselves and prepare.

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