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Our View: Still more to learn about coronavirus before panic

As the threat of the novel coronavirus heightens, the question turns from if an outbreak will reach America to when, according to health officials.

The Associated Press reports this week that Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen — and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Officials, including Gov. Andy Beshear, are warning people not to panic, but to take precautions.

The CDC reports that the risk of getting coronavirus in the U.S. is low at this point. That is “due in part to quick action from health authorities.”

However, many people remain fearful and anxious about the possibility of an outbreak in the U.S., and rightfully so as more cases are reported in the U.S.

The AP reports there have been 60 confirmed cases in the U.S., and the most recent case in California involves someone who doesn’t have the usual risk factors of having traveled abroad or being exposed to another patient.

Beshear said in a press release Thursday there have been no confirmed cases in Kentucky, and the Kentucky Department of Public Health has been monitoring citizens who have traveled to China, and surveillance efforts continue to evolve.

And while President Donald Trump warns there is no reason for concern in the U.S., top health officials say otherwise.

Those officials said schools, businesses and individuals need to be ready for an outbreak.

“Trump compared the new virus repeatedly to the flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year,” the AP reported. “The new coronavirus has killed more than 2,700 people — most in China and none in the U.S. — but scientists still don’t understand who’s most at risk or what the death rate is.”

While the virus is concerning, proper precautions are being taken in the U.S., and although there is no vaccine, there are steps you can take personally to protect against the virus.

The disease spreads largely just like other more common viruses, like the flu and the common cold.

According to the CDC, the virus spreads from person-to-person between those who come in close contact with one another (within about six feet). It can spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets either land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, are inhaled by others or land on nearby surfaces or objects, which are then touched by others who touch their own nose, mouth or eyes and contract the virus.

In the U.S., COVID-19 has spread person-to-person only among  a few close contacts. However, the CDC reports the virus is spreading easily and sustainably in other parts of the world, namely in the Hubei province and other parts of China.

Symptoms range in severity and can be fatal. Generally, symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath that can appear as early as two days and as a far as 14 days after exposure. Some patients have also reported having a sore throat.

As with other illnesses, those with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe symptoms.

As with other viruses, prevention and treatment hinge on some basic good hygiene practices and quarantining yourself from others when you are ill.

The CDC recommends:

— Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home unless you are seeking medical care, and call ahead if you are planning to visit a doctor’s office. Do not go to work, school or public areas. Avoid public transportation. At home, try to stay in a specific room away from others as much as possible and use a separate bathroom if possible. Continue to sanitize these areas often. Also restrict contact with pets and other animals.

— You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

— Stay home when you are sick.

— Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

— Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

— Do not wear a facemask if you are well. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of the virus to help prevent spreading the disease. Others who should wear facemasks include health care providers and care givers.

— Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

The CDC also recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to affected areas primarily in China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan. There is also a risk of travel to areas of Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

As a precaution, Chinese officials are screening travelers leaving from certain cities and on arrival in the U.S., travelers from China will also be screened.

COVID-19 is an emerging disease and there is more to learn about its transmissibility, severity and what will happen in the United States. 

Kentucky has launched kycovid19.ky.gov, where citizens can remain up-to-date on information regarding the virus in Kentucky and even in the U.S.

People are understandably concerned, but should remain calm and cautious.

Basic tools to prevent the spread of other viruses and illnesses can be applied in this case to protect you and your loved ones.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The board comprises publisher Michael Caldwell and Bluegrass Newsmedia editors Whitney Leggett and Ben Kleppinger. To inquire about a meeting with the board, contact Caldwell at 759-0095.