December 2, 2021

Officials: Virus poses little risk locally

Originating in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, a new and potentially deadly coronavirus called 2019-nCoV has been causing respiratory illness in patients in an increasing number of countries, but local health officials say so far the risk to Cortland area residents is low.

No cases had been confirmed in New York state by this morning. Nine suspected cases in New York were sent to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; four of those cases proved negative, but five were still being tested, reported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press office.’

Outside of China and Hong Kong, health officials have confirmed cases in 14 countries.

China has confirmed 4,515 cases and 106 deaths; 1,771 of those cases had been confirmed in the 24 hours before midnight Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Five cases had been confirmed in the U.S., in Illinois, Washington, California and Nevada, and 73 more suspected cases were still being investigated this morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As health officials worldwide work to determine the nature and danger of this new virus, health officials nearer Cortland say the best thing you can do to protect yourself is do what you should already be doing to protect yourself from the flu.

“It’s about hand-washing, covering one’s cough, and staying home when one is ill,” said Dr. Michael Scalzone, chief quality officer for the Guthrie Clinic in Sayre, Pennsylvania; Guthrie also owns Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. “It’s really about using typical precautions you would take to prevent the flu.”

The Tompkins County Health Department recommends:

  • Getting the flu vaccination if you have not done so already.
  • Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Staying home if you are sick.
  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

The only other guidance is for international travelers to follow CDC travel advisories, particularly regarding travel to or from Wuhan.

“I think we can all understand the public’s concern,” Scalzone said. But while that concern is understandable, he said, it’s important to keep the outbreak of the new virus in context.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what the risk may be because it’s a new virus,” he said.

But in the age of global travel, viruses can spread far and fast, he said. Taking regular precaution against flu infection, he said, is also the best way to protect oneself from other viruses, such as the coronavirus.

“This virus probably originally emerged from an animal source but now seems to be spreading from person to person,” according to the CDC website. “It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. It’s not clear yet how easily 2019-nCoV spreads from person to person.”

What does this ultimately mean for people in the greater Cortland area?

“It’s important to be careful, but not to be overly concerned,” Scalzone said.

Still, public awareness of the virus can also have a positive effect — such as prodding people who still haven’t received their flu shots this season to get them.

It’s not too late in the season, Scalzone said. “There’s still time to get a flu shot.”