This past weekend I was notified of the first two presumptive positive cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the 17th District. As of this email, there are a total of 10 presumptive positives in PA – seven adults in Montgomery County, one adult in Delaware County, one in Wayne County and one in Monroe County. Six of these individuals have mild symptoms and are in isolation at home. One recent case is currently being treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
We anticipate that there will be more Pennsylvanians with COVID-19 in the coming days. As of now, each of the presumed positive cases have traveled to a country or a state with known outbreaks or have encountered someone who had the virus. As new details begin to come in, my office and I will do our best to keep you updated. Most cases have been mild and there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting the virus.
To date, there are close to 110,000 cases worldwide, including more than 3,800 deaths. There are 476 cases and have been 19 deaths in the United States. With 10 cases currently reported in Pennsylvania, and more expected, we want to help you be prepared and answer any questions or concerns you might have. Please consider reviewing the rest of this email for additional information on COVID-19, for prevention tips and for information on what to do if you feel sick. Always feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610.768.4200 with questions and/or concerns.
Background & Definitions
The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China (PA DOH). It has now been detected in almost 90 locations internationally, including in the United States (CDC).
Symptoms of the coronavirus can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying.
People most at risk of contracting a coronavirus are those who have traveled to places where the virus is occurring. Early information out of China, where the coronavirus first emerged, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness including older adults, and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heath disease, diabetes, and lung disease (CDC).
On March 4, 2020, a Commonwealth Response Coordination Center in support of the Department of Health’s Department Operations Center was activated in an effort to maintain situational awareness and coordinate the response to any potential impacts across the Commonwealth.
On March 6, 2020, Governor Wolf signed an emergency disaster declaration to provide increased support and up to $20 million to state agencies involved in the response to the virus. In addition, it gives state agencies the ability to take action quickly (such as closing institutions) as new information becomes available.
As of March 9, 2020, there are 10 presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania: seven adults in Montgomery County, one adult in Delaware County, one in Wayne County and one in Monroe County. Presumptive positive means that the State Department of Health results are positive – but they are waiting on final confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control.
Originally, discussion focused on a containment strategy, which meant stopping the spread through quarantining individuals in hopes that it would slow down or stop the spread of the virus. Now, with the new spread of the virus, discussion has shifted to focusing on mitigation, which means that impacted communities will need to start thinking about whether it makes sense to cancel large gatherings, close schools and other institutions, and make it more feasible for employees to work from home.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Additionally, there are everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- 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.
- 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% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask:
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.
- The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).
- Avoid crowded places and limit activities in public.
- Consider preparing an at-home emergency kit with non-perishable foods, water, medications, batteries, first-aid, baby and pet supplies.
What to do if you are sick
If you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC recommends following the steps below to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community:
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider immediately and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
- Ask your healthcare provider to call the local or state health department. Persons who are placed under active monitoring or facilitated self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by their local health department or occupational health professionals, as appropriate.
- Put on a facemask before you enter any facilities.
- If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before emergency medical services arrive.
- Stay home except to get medical care
- People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 can isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
- Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
- Avoid using public transportation, ridesharing, or taxis.
- Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
- As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
- You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
- When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.
- Wear a facemask if you are sick
- If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
- If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with the person who is sick should not stay in the same room with them, or they should wear a facemask if they enter a room with the person who is sick.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Throw used tissues in a lined trash can.
- Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Clean your hands often
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. Soap and water are the best option if hands are visibly dirty.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid sharing personal household items
- 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.
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday
- Routinely clean and disinfect high touch surfaces such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
- Clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
- Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions.
- Monitor your symptoms
- Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing.
- Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing).
- Discontinuing home isolation
- Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low.
- The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
What to do if you have recently traveled
If you have returned from Iran or China:
- The health department will be alerted by the CDC and will contact you
- Stay home and self-isolate yourself for 14 days after travel
If you have returned from Italy or South Korea:
- Call 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) to let the health department know about your travel
- Stay home and self-isolate yourself for 14 days after travel
Any travelers returning from Iran, China, Italy and South Korea should self-monitor for symptoms like fever, cough, or trouble breathing. If you become sick, call 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) and the doctor's office or emergency room before visiting.
The CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to a country with a level 3 travel advisory. For travel advice for other countries, please visit that country's Destination Page or Travel Health Notices page on the CDC's website. You can also visit the PA Department of Health’s Traveler page.