Howell County Health Department Director Chris Gilliam says his agency is taking a proactive approach to address the potential local impact of the outbreak of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that first appeared late last year in Wuhan, China.
Public fears of a potential pandemic have resulted in increased demand for bottled water and hand sanitizer, and employers near and far have begun considering strategies to allow staff to work from home if sick.
The stock market reflects economic worries about the global supply chain: the Dow tumbled over 900 points Thursday, the Associated Press reports. Ten-year Treasury yields, which fall as market anxiety rises, hit a record low, the S&P 500 slumped more than 3% and Nasdaq slid 2.75%.
Locally, Gilliam says it is time to be prudent — but it is not yet time to be alarmed.
“Concerns over the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreaks are understandable, however, efforts are underway to limit the impact of the outbreak at the local, state and national levels,” assures Gilliam. “This is a time for caution not panic.”
According to Gilliam, local plan coordination meetings and efforts to address the potential of a local outbreak of COVID-19 have already begun, and the Howell County Health Department continues to work with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their unified efforts.
Gilliam points out that both Howell County and the health department maintain pandemic emergency plans to respond to occurrences such as the current COVID-19 outbreaks.
While the disease has reached epidemic status, as of Thursday, it is not considered a pandemic by public health officials. World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported Thursday that new case reports in China and the Republic of Korea appear to be declining.
Outside of China, 2,055 cases have been reported in 33 countries, and 80% of them continue to come from just three countries, said Ghebreyesus; 115 countries have not reported any cases and 21 have reported only one. And, he noted, five that have reported cases have not had new cases in two weeks.
No confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have been identified either in Howell County or the state of Missouri, health department officials report.
“As this COVID-19 virus is new strain, there is not currently a vaccine against the virus nor do our bodies have a natural immunity to it, making it crucial that individuals follow simple steps to avoid infection,” said Gilliam.
Those steps include washing hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding touching one’s face with unwashed hands and keeping a minimum distance of 6 feet from people who are sick, according to Gilliam.
“These simple steps will help protect you against COVID-19 as well as many other diseases that are spread person-to-person,” he added. “These are the most important things you can currently do to protect yourself, your family and our whole community.”
Healthy people who are not ill do not need to wear a face mask to try to protect themselves from the coronavirus, Gilliam said, explaining that facemasks are intended to be worn by people who are sick, to keep germs from traveling far when the person coughs or sneezes.
Facemasks are needed by health care workers or family members who have to be near sick patients in order to care for them.
Symptoms of COVID-19 infection include headache, cough, shortness of breath and/or breathing difficulties, fever and tiredness.
Gilliam says it is important to note the virus does not pose a great threat to most healthy individuals; it is cause for greater concern for the elderly and those individuals with underlying health issues.
Current statistics shared by Gilliam show that, for those infected with COVID-19, 81% of patients develop mild symptoms, 14% develop severe symptoms and 5% become critically ill.
In light of the identified risk the virus carries for the elderly and ill, Gilliam says it is important to limit the infection’s spread in the community as much as possible.
“You can do your part by staying home when you are sick,” he notes.
For more information, visit the Howell County Health Department webage at howellcountyhealth.com or follow “Howell County Health Department” on Facebook. Those with questions may also call the department, 256-7078.