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(WAB NEWS) – Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have warned that the question is no longer whether the coronavirus will spread in the country, but when it will. Therefore, communities have been urged to prepare themselves to face the virus that has taken the lives of thousands around the world and infected many more.
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“We hope to see a community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, during a press conference on Tuesday.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be serious,” he added.
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The CDC has referred to a guide on how to deal with influenza pandemics, found in a document called “Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza in the United States 2017”. This is the “action plan” for community interventions, and the agency is adjusting its recommendations to the specific circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, according to authorities.
The document is based on the findings of almost 200 articles of average journals written between 1990 and 2016. It also includes a summary of the lessons learned with the response to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. People all over the world.
“The trajectory of what we will be seeing in the coming weeks and months is very uncertain, but many of the steps we have taken over the past 15 years to prepare for pandemic influenza and our experience in the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic remind us the types of measures that our health care system, our businesses, our communities and schools may need to implement, ”explained Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, during a press conference at the White House this Wednesday.
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“It is the perfect time for companies, health systems, universities and schools to look for their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off and make sure they are ready.”
Some schools and social events may be suspended
A widespread spread of the coronavirus could affect schools, child care centers, universities and some group events, such as concerts, festivals and sporting events, according to the 2017 CDC document.
For example, the document notes that “social distancing measures” for schools, workplaces and meetings “can reduce the transmission of the virus by decreasing the frequency and duration of social contact between people of all ages.”
In schools, that could mean dividing classes into smaller groups of students and reorganizing desks so that students are separated by at least one meter from each other in a classroom, according to the document. That in case the school remains open.
The CDC could recommend coordinated school closures during severe pandemics. The activities of more than 100 schools were suspended in 2009 in response to the H1N1 flu pandemic.
Closing schools or canceling classes for public health concerns are decisions that districts generally have to face and with which they already have experience.
“Even in my own state of Maine, schools have had to close for influenza in recent weeks and months. During the H1N1 crisis many years ago, schools also closed, ”recalled Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Disease Control and Prevention Center and a member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
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Before the coronavirus, “one of the scientific questions that will govern or determine how school closures are calculated is to what extent the children themselves carry or transmit this virus,” Shah said. “Scientifically we need to have a better understanding of the extent to which children are carriers or transmitters of the virus; the fact is that it is premature at this time, based on science, to make uniform statements about how school closures could be, ”he said.
Messonnier said Tuesday that he spoke with his family and told them that, although they are not at risk at this time, they should have a plan in case their lives are significantly affected. And he said he even called the children’s school district to find out what would happen if schools needed to close.
“The data of the last week, and the spread in other countries, have certainly increased our level of concern and our level of expectations” of community propagation, he completed.
The CDC does not yet know how it will be, he added. The community spread could be reasonably mild or very serious.
You may be asked to work from home
The CDC published a guide on its website to help companies and employers make decisions about policies for work from home or flexible sick leave if there is a significant spread of the coronavirus throughout the country.
Such guidance also includes how to respond if an employee becomes ill.
The 2017 document highlighted that “social distancing measures that reduce personal contact in the workplace could include telecommuting and remote meeting options. Flexible sick leave policies should be implemented to encourage employees to stay at home if necessary. ”
Also, according to the document, “the CDC recommends environmental cleaning measures for the surface in all environments, including homes, schools and workplaces, with the aim of eliminating influenza viruses from surfaces and objects that they often play frequently. ”
However, at a general level “the way in which community propagation in the United States occurs will vary greatly from one community to another. It can change according to the weather and the location, ”Shah explained.
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“Although we believe, according to the CDC, that community propagation is likely in the United States, the magnitude of that possibility, as well as the way it actually develops, will change greatly between the state of Washington, Florida, Maine and any other state. , “He said, adding that this is why” there will not be a single approach for everyone here. “
Emergency personnel may have to act
With the spread of the disease, health care systems could be loaded with high rates of hospitalizations and deaths, and the virus could also affect other critical infrastructure areas, such as the police, emergency medical services and the transportation industry, according to the CDC.
Many state health departments are already talking with emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters and other first aid teams to plan how to handle sick patients and stay safe from infection in case the virus spreads through the community. Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against the coronavirus and medications to treat it have not yet been approved.
“Again, the way this will happen will vary greatly between communities, cities and states,” Shah insisted.
The CDC has produced more than 23 guides on infection control, hospital preparation, personal protective equipment supplies and clinical evaluation and management to help emergency teams and health systems prepare for the possible spread of the disease.
These preparations include ensuring that there are sufficient supplies available for response efforts.
For example, Shah said his CDC colleagues have already made an inventory of his personal protective equipment – such as gowns, masks and respirators – and have ordered additional supplies, as have many other state health departments.
“We are anticipating what potential needs the health care system may have in Maine, and New England as a whole, against those supplies and we are trying to anticipate as much as we can,” he said.
A call to stay informed
Although federal, state and local health departments are working hard on preparedness efforts, Shah has several suggestions on how citizens can also be ready to deal with the disease.
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“I recommend some things. The first is to urge everyone to keep themselves and their families as healthy as possible. Exercise, have a good diet, sleep a lot, wash your hands, do your best to stay healthy at this time. The other thing we recommend is that people stay informed, ”Shah said.
“We really want to ask everyone to avoid dubious sources of information and go to reliable sources such as their state health departments or the United States CDC,” he added. “We are in a situation where fear and misinformation can spread faster than this virus.”
Shah also suggests keeping up with CDC coronavirus travel warnings and alerts. As of this Wednesday, the agency has recommended that travelers avoid all non-essential transfers to Mainland china and South Korea.
“These are really concrete things that everyone can start doing today, so if we face a scenario where the situation becomes more worrying throughout the country, everyone is ready, not just the health departments,” Shah concluded.
Eliott McLaughlin and Steve Almasy of WAB NEWS contributed to this report.