Concerns over the outbreak of the respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus (the disease caused by the virus has been abbreviated as “COVID-19”) has dominated national media in recent weeks. While there have been no cases reported in Missouri, local agencies and businesses are preparing for a potential outbreak in our region and working to remind residents of the many ways they can assist in prevention efforts.
Grain Valley Schools has focused its efforts on educating students at school on proper handwashing and encouraging parents to reinforce healthy habits in the home.
In a statement released to parents and community members on March 3rd, Denise Beach, RN, Director of Health Services for Grain Valley Schools emphasized the district is continuing to work with the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Jackson County Health Department to monitor the situation but emphasized the overall importance of healthy practices as it relates to the flu virus and other viruses.
These healthy habits include instructing children on proper handwashing, cleaning surfaces and toys frequently, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve, and keeping children home from school if they are sick.
Local governments and public service agencies are keeping an eye on the situation as well. Sara Nadeau, Public Information Officer with the City of Grain Valley, stated the City would follow the lead of the Central Jackson County Emergency Management Agency in its prevention and response efforts. Chip Portz, Chief of Community Risk Reduction with the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, says their response protocols always include protection of firefighters from communicable diseases, and these measures would be the same if COVID-19 were to become an issue in the area.
“Our preparation in general is kind of the same prep we take with any other potential infectious disease, whether it be coming in contact with a patient having tuberculosis or another infectious agent. We continue to be involved and in contact with our hospital partners at the local and regional levels. CJCFPD also participates in much of the Mid America Regional Council (MARC) planning aimed at addressing community needs during potential ‘surges’ of patients secondary to disease or injury. Our Medial Director and our Infection Control Officer are both monitoring evolving information from the CDC, Jackson County Health Department, and other sources,” Portz said.
“Exam gloves, respiratory protection, eye protection and splash protection are all part of our normal procedure when the potential exists for exposure to infectious agents. Secondary to recent Center for Disease Control recommendations, our procedures have evolved to include the preference of an N95 mask for respiratory protection in place of a simple surgical mask.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health officials, including the Jackson County Health Department, encourage residents to assist in prevention efforts.
Kayla Parker, Communications Specialist with the Jackson County Health Department, encourages all residents to take part in preventative measures to stay healthy this winter season.
“We recommend getting a flu vaccine, washing your hands with soap and warm water, staying at home if you’re sick, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed,” Parker said.
The CDC and local officials recommend the following tips for preventing the spread of viruses such as COVID19:
* Wash your hands frequently with soap for at least 20 seconds. When handwashing is not practical, hand sanitizers can be helpful.
* Cover your cough by coughing into the crook of your arm. Sneeze into a tissue; do not cover a cough or sneeze with your hands.
* Avoid touching your face, especially around your mouth and nose.
* If you are sick, especially if you have a fever, stay home. It is recommended that someone who has been sick be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school.
“As with past influenza seasons, the possibility of school closings exists so we suggest making sure you have back-up plans for childcare. Further, as has been the case with almost all flu seasons, expect extended waits in emergency rooms. You might consider coordinating with your Primary Care Physician for non-emergency complaints,” Portz said.
The CDC states the immediate risk of COVID-19 in the United States is believed to be low at this time. Public health officials continue to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 and encouraging residents to take proper prevention steps is just one of the activities they do to prepare for potential outbreaks.
“Know that local public health departments have been preparing for a widespread outbreak for a long time. We are working together to make sure our community is prepared for COVID-19 by listening to guidance from local, state and federal health officials, sharing prevention information, testing our response plans, and reviewing lessons learned from previous outbreaks, such as H1N1 and measles,” Parker said.
“We continue to monitor the situation as it rapidly evolves. We encourage residents to visit www.cdc.gov/ncov19 for the latest information and guidance, as well as follow local health department social media.”