Westchester officials announced Wednesday afternoon they are making plans for the county to combat the deadly coronavirus should there be an outbreak reported locally.
County Executive George Latimer and Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler held a briefing in White Plains where they cautioned that there is no reason for residents to be alarmed but officials don’t want to be caught off-guard. There have been no cases of the coronavirus, referred to as COVID-19, reported in Westchester or New York State through Wednesday.
“We are making contingency plans should circumstances become worse and if they become worse, we will not be sitting around (saying) ‘Oh, what is next?’ Latimer said. “We will be prepared for what comes next. We are not going to frighten the public coming up with a worst-case scenario because we’re not near the worst-case scenario, but be advised we are planning for the worst-case scenario.”
During a Feb. 18 briefing, Latimer and Amler said 26 people in the county were voluntarily quarantined after returning from China. None of the quarantined individuals showed symptoms or got sick. The number of individuals under quarantine was reduced to eight on Monday and four by Tuesday, but ticked up to eight on Wednesday, Amler said.
She expects that number to fluctuate as people return from China or were potential exposed to someone with the virus while the 14-day incubation period for others in the group expires. A quarantine is used for those who are not sick but may have been exposed to COVID-19 or to someone who was infected. Isolation would be used for anyone returning from China in the last 14 days who shows various symptoms of coughs, sneezing or fever.
“We have no one ill in the county,” Amler said. “We have no cases, so we can all take a deep breath at the moment. There are no cases in New York. There are no cases in Westchester. We’re just monitoring people with a travel history.”
Part of Westchester’s contingency plans include the county Health Department being in close contact with hospitals and other healthcare facilities to make sure there is an ample supply of protective equipment for personnel and to assist any facility that needs to obtain or bolster its supplies, Amler said.
Each county department is also making preparations, particularly those departments that deal with the public on a large scale, Latimer said. For example, some of the most extensive preparations have to be made by the Parks Department because it oversees large public facilities such as parks, the County Center and Playland, he said.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as fear of the virus gripped much of the world with cases and deaths spreading in Italy and Iran and a reported case on every continent except Antarctica. As of Wednesday, there has been at least one case reported in 39 countries. There have been just over 81,000 cases reported worldwide with 2,763 deaths. Of those, China has had 2,716 deaths and 78,095 cases.
While travel to China has been discontinued, Amler said the federal government has placed South Korea on a Grade 3 travel alert, which strongly recommends to avoid all non-essential travel. Italy and Iran have been placed on a Grade 2 travel alert, which suggests that anyone over 50 or with underlying health issues not visit those countries.
Amler said residents should be washing their hands regularly, which is the best way to stay healthy. They should also stay calm and stay informed, she advised. Also, remain at home if you’re not feeling well, cough or sneeze into your arm and get a flu shot if you haven’t had one.
While there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, currently influenza is more likely to negatively affect Americans, Amler said. This fall-winter season, 14,000 people in the United States have died from the flu.
“Nobody’s died from coronavirus (in the United States),” Amler said. “So your chances of dying right now in the U.S. is much greater from influenza. (That’s) not to say coronavirus is not a problem, not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about it but I don’t have a vaccine for coronavirus. We have a vaccine for influenza.”
Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant were two of the local school districts that sent letters Wednesday to families explaining how school officials are in contact with the county and state health departments. The letters also included common-sense steps to take and where to turn for updates and information on the coronavirus.
For more information, visit these websites:
Center for Disease Control 2019 nCoV website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html
NYS Department of Health Novel Coronavirus Hotline: 1-888-364-3065
NYS Department of Health Novel Coronavirus Website: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus
NYS Department of Health Local Health Departments: https://health.ny.gov/contact/contact_information/
NYS Center for School Health: www.schoolhealthny.com
Westchester County Health Department: https://health.westchestergov.com/2019-novel-coronavirus