Vance Air Force Base

Vance Air Force Base. (File Photo)

ENID — Regional health officials are closely monitoring and preparing for the coronavirus, but urge people to take basic precautions and not panic.

Currently, there are no reported cases of coronavirus in Oklahoma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of Wednesday, the CDC had confirmed at least 80 coronavirus cases in the United States. Nine deaths from the illness have been reported in the U.S., also as of Wednesday.

Putting it in perspective

While the COVID-19 novel (new) coronavirus has gotten a lot of attention in the news and social media, like the bird flu and swine flu before it, information released Friday in a report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) liken the mortality rate of the current coronavirus outbreak to that of a severe seasonal flu.

According to NIH data, mortality rates in China for patients who contracted coronavirus have been between 1.4% and 2%, depending on source.

The heads of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the CDC also released an editorial Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicating many of the cases studied in China may have died because of other complicating factors, and the actual coronavirus mortality rate could well be below 1%.

“This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza,” they wrote, and would be expected to be far less than past years’ outbreaks of other coronavirus infections such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Not necessarily deadly, but could spread

While mortality rate for coronavirus is expected to be around 1%, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) warns a widespread transmission of the disease could have significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

“Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time,” according to OSDH. “Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare 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.”

Jan Fox, OSDH regional director for north-central and northwest Oklahoma, said the state is working at the county level to monitor potential spread of the disease.

“Health Departments across the state are continuing to monitor travelers who return to Oklahoma from China,” Fox said. She said travelers are contacted by health department nurses and are monitored daily for 14 days following departure from China.

There currently is no vaccine or cure for coronavirus, but Fox said the best way to prevent its spread is to wash your hands.

Local hospitals

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Integris Bass Baptist Health Center both urged people to take basic precautions, and to stay informed.

St. Mary’s infection control preventionist Deb Bartel, RN, said the hospital is working closely with OSDH, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the CDC “to ensure appropriate preparations are in place.”

“We are making adjustments as new and updated information is released,” Bartel said.

While there are no confirmed cases in our area, Bartel emphasized “it is important for people to remain diligent with hand washing, covering their mouth when they cough and staying current with immunizations in an effort to help prevent the spread of any type of infection.”

Tania Warnock, marketing project lead for Integris Bass Baptist Health Center, said Integris also is monitoring the situation, and has added some new prevention measures such as adding travel questions to triage practices, and flagging any patients who have traveled to areas impacted by the disease.

“If a patient met this criteria and signs or symptoms of COVID, they would be placed in isolation rooms, or private rooms if isolation rooms are unavailable, to minimize exposure to others, including caregivers,” Warnock said. “Plans do exist for expanding our isolation capability to units, wings or entire floors if needed. At this time, we have not had anyone meet this criteria.”

The hospital also is emphasizing reduction of unnecessary waste of personal protective equipment, like masks and gowns, that would be needed if an outbreak occurred.

“We will continue to monitor local, national, and international disease progression to be able to identify when and how to potentially deploy additional precautions,” Warnock said. “In the meantime, we encourage our caregivers and our communities to use this opportunity to review your own personal preparedness plan. If you have a respiratory illness of any kind, we advise you to limit your exposure to others.”

Vance Air Force Base

The Vance office of public affairs, in a provided statement, said the base’s medical group and wing leadership “are closely monitoring the evolving situation regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).”

“We are taking all necessary precautions to ensure the well-being of Team Vance and the communities with whom we interact,” according to the statement. “As of now, we have no cases of COVID-19 here at Vance. The DoD is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the State Department to provide the support in dealing with the COVID-19 virus.”

For updated information on coronavirus, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

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