Coronavirus prompts review of county’s response plans


Local emergency agencies are prepared for any possible illness outbreak, including the new version of coronavirus that is starting to spread in the U.S.

“We’ve been working on this for months,” said Jo Ann Spaulding, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department. “We are working with our local hospitals, area EMS, EMA, all of our health care providers and making sure that they have the most up-to-date information. We are focusing on our emergency preparedness services that the local health department does provide, and how we work with our area agencies, including the health care providers, hospitals and even businesses and schools.”

The Indiana State Department of Health has confirmed six presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing COVID-19 is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

At least three of the six patients in Indiana are adults; at least one is a juvenile. The people live in Adams, Boone, Marion, Hendricks and Noble counties. The Marion and Hendricks County patients are self-isolating. The Noble County patient is currently hospitalized. The status of the Adams and Boone patients were not available at press time.

A presumptive positive case means the patient has tested positive at the ISDH labs. Samples will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for final confirmation.

The patients will remain in isolation for 14 days and will not be released until specimens taken two consecutive days at the end of that period test negative for COVID-19.

There is no need to panic, Spaulding said.

“Even with the presumptive cases from the state of Indiana that we have, our risk is low,” she said. “Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are experiencing mild symptoms and are easily able to self treat at home.”

The CDC has suggested that areas use their pandemic flu emergency plans that are in place. “We’ve been working with our schools, hospitals, area agencies, businesses to have them bring out their pandemic influenza plans,” Spaulding said.

The response to a COVID-19 outbreak would be just about the same as an outbreak of the flu. “We have plans in place already. And so it is always a good idea to review that, to feel more confident and comfortable,” Spaulding said. “For your plans, you would just take out influenza and then insert COVID-19; that is how it’s been identified now.”

As more is learned about this version of COVID-19, some of the minor details in the response plans will change to accommodate that new information, Spaulding said.

“What is the incubation period?” she said. “What is the most susceptible time that the virus spreads? What are the signs or symptoms that we need to look for?” That kind of information will be incorporated into the plans, she said.

The county health department is part of a district health care coalition that meets to review emergency preparedness and what resources there are in the county. It just so happens that the meeting is taking place today.

“We will review what our resources are in the county,” Spaulding said, “and what our national incident management system command center would look like.”

There are three major symptoms attached to COVID-19 that people should be aware of: fever, cough and shortness of breath.

“If you know you’ve been traveling and you start to feel sick with fever, cough, shortness of breath, please call your health care provider, and they will give you instructions,” Spaulding said. “They will guide you and talk to you over the phone. They have the most updated information. So call your provider ahead of time.”

Do not go to the doctor’s office, she said. Also, do not automatically go to the emergency room.

“If you feel sick enough where you know if you have shortness of breath and you obviously need more attention, then you need to call the emergency department ahead of time and let them know of your symptoms,” she said. “If you have those three symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, call ahead of time.”

Spaulding said the general public should practice the same preventive actions they would if they are trying to avoid catching the flu.

“Wash your hands,” she said. “Avoid touching your face. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home when you are sick. I want the community to be confident in being aware of what’s going on and knowing what preventative actions they can take.”

The CDC does not recommend that the general population wear masks.

“Some of the actions you should be taking, the everyday preventive actions are avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands,” Spaulding said. “If you wear a mask, the number of times you touch your face increases. You want to avoid that.

“We want to preserve those types of products for health care workers or those that might have a compromised immune system,” Spaulding said.

Masks should be worn only if a health care professional recommends it, a state health department spokesperson said. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms to protect others from the risk of infection.

“So implement your everyday preventive actions for the flu or any other respiratory illness,” Spaulding said. “And if you have questions, call and we’ll work through it.”

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