Gov. Ralph Northam is “taking every precaution to ensure the safety of Virginians” amidst a global outbreak of novel coronavirus, press secretary Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email on Friday.
In reality, that translates to watching and waiting as experts learn more about the disease, recently named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. The Virginia Department of Health has set up a command center to track the virus and meets daily to discuss the situation, state epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said in an interview on Friday. But there’s still a wide degree of uncertainty surrounding the disease, even as Virginia and surrounding states remain free of confirmed cases.
“The risk right now is very, very low,” added Dr. Laurie Forlano, the department’s deputy commissioner for population health. “But it’s a dynamic outbreak and it’s changing daily, so we are taking it very seriously.”
In coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state is identifying residents who have returned from travel in China and assessing their risk level for the disease. Those with higher risk are asked to stay home and limit public contact for 14 days since their possible exposure, which usually means the last day they were in the country, Peake said.
Right now, the state is monitoring 179 people. Eight people have been tested for the virus, and six tests returned negative results. Two are still pending from the CDC.
But Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, chair of the division for infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, said Virginians should be more worried about seasonal influenza, which kills an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Americans every year, than contracting the coronavirus. There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C., and most cases in the United States have been linked to people traveling abroad or those that have come in contact with them.
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