Roy Cooper announces confirmation of the first novel coronavirus case in North Carolina at a press conference on Tuesday. Image courtesy of a screen grab from UNC-TV.

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North Carolina hospitals, schools and other organizations are preparing for the potential spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus that has swept the globe with potentially deadly consequences.

Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed the first case in North Carolina on Tuesday. An unidentified Wake County resident had been exposed after traveling to a care facility in Washington state, where some 30 cases had been confirmed earlier this week.

A test by the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health was positive for COVID-19 and is “presumptively positive” until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab can confirm it.

“I know that people are worried about this virus, and I want to assure North Carolinians our state is prepared,” Cooper said in a press release announcing the case.

“Our task force and state agencies are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others to quickly identify and respond to cases that might occur.”

While there has only been one case confirmed in North Carolina, the CDC has warned that citizens should prepare for an outbreak in their communities.

“It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur,” the CDC states on its website.

Cooper announced Tuesday that the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health can now test for the virus.

While the CDC still has to confirm cases, action will be taken with presumptive positive cases.

“A presumptive positive from NCSLPH will initiate an immediate public health response from NCDHHS, N.C. Emergency Management and the appropriate local health department and hospital while CDC confirmation is pending,” a press release from the governor’s office stated.

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The virus can lead to severe respiratory failure and death. As of late Wednesday, 11 deaths had been confirmed in the United States from the outbreak. Ten of those deaths have been in Washington state, with another in California. Washington has 39 of the confirmed U.S. cases, with another 231 individuals under supervision, according to national news media reports.

NC schools prepare for virus

Some schools in the U.S. have closed due to the virus. Hazen High School in Washington state announced Sunday that a parent and student were being tested for COVID-19 and that the school would close. It reopened Tuesday, with officials saying that the school had been cleaned and that the two individuals were still waiting for test results.

St. Raphael Academy in Rhode Island also announced that it would close until Friday after two people within the school tested presumptively positive for the virus. Both apparently received it while on a trip to Europe.

Other schools in California and New York have announced brief closures, according to national news reports.

North Carolina schools are bracing for potentially similar measures. Leaders of several largest school districts met in Guilford County with state health officials earlier this week to discuss the situation.

The News and Observer reported that Chapel Hill- Carrboro Schools is canceling “all international school-sponsored field trips and encouraging all individual overseas trips to be postponed.”

Other schools systems are posting information to for parents, students and employees concerned about the virus spread.

Moore County Schools has a page about the virus and confirming that its disinfectant works against COVID-19. Rockingham County Schools has guidelines on its website, as well.

On Monday, Haywood County Schools posted on its website a release it received from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has received numerous inquiries from schools and parents regarding the coronavirus and its potential impact on schools,” the post states. “DPI is aware of the concerns about this developing public health emergency.”

The post continued: “The flu infects and results in many more deaths every year than we are currently discussing with 2019-nCoV. The symptoms presented look much like a cold or early flu, and school nurses and schools are being advised to follow their same policies and procedures in place for responding to other communicable diseases.”

Bobbie Short, the interim superintendent for Asheville City Schools, issued a statement on the district’s website Monday: “Asheville City Schools has been working with Buncombe County Health and Human Services as well as (the Mountain Area Health Education Center) to prevent the spread of all diseases across our school district, including the coronavirus. They have, in turn, shared information from the N.C. Division of Public Health as well as the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Our school nurses have been a vital part of this conversation.”

The district asked students and staff to stay home if they are sick and to follow basic recommendations to prevent illness, including hand-washing and not touching eyes, mouth or nose.

“Additional measures Asheville City Schools is putting in place include an extensive sanitizing process and a review of our food purchasing plan,” Short’s statement continued.

“Our custodians and maintenance department will continue to proactively disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. For the next several weeks, we will also be adding supplemental custodial personnel in our buildings, after school hours, to assist with our extended sanitizing process. In collaboration with our school nutrition department, we have begun reviewing our food supply purchases to help ensure we are able to provide daily meals should a disruption in delivery occur due to impacts of the coronavirus.”

Like others in the state, the schools are preparing for the possibility of teaching classes online.

Medical providers consider options

Major health care providers across North Carolina are also getting prepared or the spread of coronavirus and providing information to the public.

Winston-Salem-based Wake Forest Baptist Health is among the hospital companies has published a page with information on the virus.

“We’re actively coordinating with local, state and federal agencies but also with other hospitals and health systems across the state so that we’re all best prepared to take care of, to keep our patients safe, visitors safe and staff safe,”Joe McCloskey, a spokesman for Wake Forest Baptist, said Tuesday.

“We collaborate with other systems on a variety of projects,” he said.

“But we actually, with us and the other health systems in the Triad and in Charlotte, have gotten a really good group together that’s been going on for the past several years, specifically addressing the flu and when to implement visitor restrictions to kind of make it across the board so it’s less confusing for visitors.

“That group has been very helpful, and we’ve kind of morphed into discussing preparations for the coronavirus, too. That’s one example of how we’re always communicating with other health systems because we share a geographic area and a lot of our patients and visitors are the same people.”

McCloskey said Wake Forest Baptist is still trying to get ahead of possible supply disruptions.

“I believe that’s a bit of a concern nationally right now, so yeah, that’s one of the areas that we’re looking at, to make sure we have adequate supplies,” McCloskey said.

How to prepare for spread of coronavirus

Churches, schools, employers and more may want to create a plan for preventing coronavirus’s transmission or for experiencing large numbers of sick attendees and employees.

“Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time,” the CDC states.

“Schools, child care centers, workplaces and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and health care systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.”

Wake Forest Baptist Health published a Facebook Live video about the virus last week. The video features Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist.

Individuals and families should also prepare.

The CDC recommends selecting a room that could be used to treat and isolate sick individuals and preferably setting aside a bathroom for them, as well.

Individuals can also use neighborhood websites, Facebook groups and other online social resources to connect with their community, have a strategy for helping those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, keep in contact with friends or family if they live alone or know someone at higher risk, and follow other CDC recommendations to prepare.

Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about recommendations for households.


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Imari Scarbrough

Imari Scarbrough is a contributing writer to Carolina Public Press. Email her at imari.scarbrough@gmail.com

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