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Minnesota Health Experts Weigh in on Coronavirus Response

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: January 24, 2020 07:54 PM

On Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a second U.S. case of the new coronavirus in Chicago. The close proximity is raising concern and has the public questioning if their state could be next.

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In light of this new information, the Minnesota Department of Health had a briefing about how the state is preparing for the coronavirus and how they would respond if there was a case in the state.

The department said there's a low immediate health risk for the general public, but are closely monitoring the outbreak and taking precautions.

"Minnesota is not among the states receiving many travelers from the areas of China associated with this outbreak, but if human to human transmission becomes more common, it's certainly possible that we could see one or more cases in Minnesota," said Jan Malcom, the Minnesota Health Commissioner.

The department asked Minnesota health care providers to alert them if a person with recent travel to Wuhan becomes sick with respiratory symptoms. Reported cases would go through laboratory sampling and be submitted;to the CDC for testing.

Minnesota health officials said they are waiting as the CDC looks into two potential cases of the coronavirus.

"We currently have two specimens that are at CDC for testing. We are waiting to learn from the CDC what timing will be for receiving results," said Kris Ehresmann, the MDH Director of Infectious Disease.

Officials say these two individuals were recently in China. Those individuals are being isolated at this time. Potential cases are being interviewed about their symptoms, travel history, daily activities, and close contacts.

The department said if testing does confirm a case of the coronavirus in a Minnesota resident, the public would be informed as soon as possible about it along with protective recommendations. They said they would also reach out to the close contacts the case identified in their interview and monitor their symptoms as well as limiting their activities.

However, officials did say symptoms are similar to the flu, so results could potentially come back as influenza.

"The symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. That sounds an awful lot like influenza and many other viral illnesses, because that's how they all present," said Dr. Amanda Noska, an infectious disease physician for Essentia. "The biggest thing I think in terms of risk for this particular virus is travel. It's if people have traveled and been exposed to this particular form of coronavirus."

Noska said they've been monitoring the situation and that there's been a major push to keep providers informed about the coronavirus and how to protect people against it.

"The coronavirus is largely spread through respiratory droplets. So people coughing, and those droplets landing on a person or being breathed in or getting into a mucosal membrane," said Noska.

Noska further said the new coronavirus is in the same family as the SARS virus and the MERS virus. She said they are viral illnesses that don't have any antiviral therapies that they are aware of. Therefore, treatment is largely through supportive care.

They ask people to take precautionary measures like staying home if you're sick, covering your mouth when you cough, practicing good hand washing, and getting the flu shot.

"Finding cases quickly and responding to them effectively is so very key. Fortunately, Minnesota has a very strong disease surveillance system in place that includes partnerships with our hospital and clinic system and with local and tribal health departments," said Malcom.

The new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China. Over 800 cases have been reported and have spread to other countries. Forty-one deaths have been reported.

On Thursday China restricted travel from Wuhan and surrounding cities. The CDC is doing public health entry screenings at several airports in the U.S. They recommend travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Wuhan.

The first case in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington State. Both cases in the U.S. were travelers who were in Wuhan.

For more information about the current outbreak in China, click here.

For travel health information, click here.

Credits

Alejandra Palacios

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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