Health Officials Encourage Residents To Prepare For Potential Coronavirus Spread

Clinical support technician Douglas Condie extracts viruses samples as analytic work continues to examine the genetic structure of a virus in the coronavirus testing laboratory at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday Feb. 19, 2020. The COVID-19 virus originally centered in China now has multiple cases confirmed worldwide.
Credit Jane Barlow / AP

A state health task force is encouraging North Carolinians to be prepared for the potential spread of the new coronavirus in the United States. 

The message from the state Department of Health and Human Services comes a day after the CDC said Americans should be anticipating the possibility of a widespread outbreak.  

The agency says it has measures in place to quickly respond should a case be confirmed, and is encouraging people to take basic precautions like washing their hands or disinfecting surfaces.  

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Duke University's campus in China has been closed for more than a month because of the coronavirus outbreak.  

As of this week, Duke Kunshan University outside of Shanghai is continuing classes strictly online. All summer programs in China - including study abroad and service learning programs - have been canceled by Duke University.

The university is monitoring the situation hour by hour, according to Vice President of Public Affairs Mike Shoenfield.

“This will be very disruptive for higher education, there is no question about it,” Shoenfield said. “And clearly there is a lot more disruption to come.”

About 60 students and 20 faculty members are living on the campus. They come from parts of China where travel is no longer possible because of restrictions in the country.

Elon University also announced it's suspending its study abroad program in Italy for the semester due to concerns about the spread of the virus there. In all, 21 students and one faculty member will be returning from Florence this week.

Around the state, health officials and hospitals are making contingency plans for the potential spread of the new virus.

UNC Hospitals Director of Emergency Services Christian Lawson says people here should consider whether they would be ready to also be under a quarantine, if needed.

“As I think about my family being prepared, that would be what I would think about. Do you have enough food and water, and could you stay in your home for a longer period of time - more than normal - if needed?,” Lawson said.

A state task force overseeing the response to COVID-19 says people should call their local health departments if they think they might have been exposed to set up a safe and isolated visit to a doctor.

Emily Sickbert-Bennett, an administrator with UNC Hospitals, says people should take precautions like they would to avoid the flu.

“The good infection prevention and public health measures work for all these diseases, so it's really important that people practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and cleaning their homes and surfaces that might have become contaminated,” Sickbert-Bennett said.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu, and include fever, cough, runny nose and shortness of breath.