The Sedgwick County Health Department is stepping up its public awareness campaign on the coronavirus and offering tips to prevent infection.
County Health Director Adrienne Byrne says most people in the Wichita region are at low risk for infection from the coronavirus, which leads to the COVID-19 disease. There are no confirmed cases in Kansas or Sedgwick County yet.
"I say 'yet' because it is coming. Since the coronavirus is now community spread, we know that it is coming," Byrne says. "It's no longer just being spread by being around someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or that has traveled to an infected area."
Byrne says the term "community spread" is meant to categorize the source of a case and not to indicate a continued mass spread throughout communities. The Kansas Department for Health and Environment (KDHE) recently tested two people in northeast Kansas for coronavirus. The results came back negative. Johnson County officials on Tuesday said they're monitoring "fewer than 30 individuals" for symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. This new coronavirus is an acute respiratory illness first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and is likely spread through coughing and sneezing.
Byrne says local public health systems remain on alert and ready to respond should the coronavirus become a public health threat in Kansas.
"We have staff that are trained just to respond to infectious disease outbreaks," she says. "We have experience with responding to H1N1, and we have had two outbreaks of measles in 2014 and 2017."
Byrne gave a brief update on the coronavirus situation and the local response preparations at the Wichita City Council meeting Tuesday morning. She plans to do weekly updates at the Sedgwick County Commission meetings on Wednesday mornings.
Sedgwick County is also continually updating its information about the coronavirus on its website. Byrne says the county is working with the United Way of the Plains to offer the 211 information line so community members can get coronavirus updates and ask questions.
She says health departments across the state are in regular contact with the CDC and KDHE, which has compiled statewide updates and resources on its website. Byrne plans to meet with the local medical community and first responder agencies later this week.
The CDC says COVID-19 causes mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some patients have developed pneumonia. After exposure, COVID-19 symptoms typically appear within 14 days.
There is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. At this time, the CDC recommends people avoid all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, which are experiencing large COVID-19 outbreaks.
Byrne says the best way to prevent infection from the coronavirus or the flu is to wash your hands often.
"It might seem too simple but it makes all the difference in the world. Hand sanitizer will do in pinch, but soap and water is the best prevention from the spread of disease," Byrne says.
As of Tuesday, the coronavirus was tied to nine deaths in the U.S. Globally, there are nearly 90,000 cases with at least 3,100 deaths.
Byrne says the fast-changing coronavirus situation can create a heightened sense of anxiety in the community despite the low probability of coming in contact with it and getting very ill. She says she’s more concerned about the spread of the flu this time of year.
"We’ve had more than 18,000 deaths in the U.S. related to the flu. We are used to the flu in our community so we can forget how deadly the flu can be," Byrne says. "We have deaths in Kansas every year. The flu is still very alive and well in our community."
To prevent infections from the flu or coronavirus:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Don’t share drinking cups or utensils with other people
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick