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Coronavirus: No need for ‘special precautions’ in Monroe County

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In a message to Monroe County school superintendents and nurses Thursday afternoon, public health commissioner Michael Mendoza said there are no suspected cases of novel coronavirus locally.

The virus originated in Wuhan, China, late last year. The World Health Organization declared it a “global health emergency” on Thursday, the same day that the federal Centers for Disease Controlconfirmed the first person-to-person transmission of the virus in the U.S.

Still, CDC director Robert Redfield said, “the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

The person who contracted the virus in the U.S. is the spouse of an Illinois resident who was infected while in China.

Mendoza said the only set of circumstances that would trigger testing for a case of the virus locally is fever, cough or shortness of breath in a person who recently traveled to China or had close contact with a person who is already under investigation for the virus.

“One must have the symptoms listed AND travel-related risk factors,” the public health departmentsaid.

Concerns about the virus have been growing since the outbreak began. The public health department's emergency preparedness team met last week for a special session to plan responses to the virus's potential arrival upstate, and University of Rochester provost Rob Clark senta memo to the university’s senior leadership in response to incorrect beliefs among students that the virus was already present on campus.

“We have no reason to believe there are cases of novel coronavirus on our campuses or in the Rochester area,” Clark said.

As news of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency spread locally, the county public health department began getting worried phone calls, said spokesperson Meaghan McDermott.

“The Monroe County Health Department continues to work with the CDC and state Department of Health to monitor the situation and plan for any potential arrival of the virus in New York,” McDermott said in a statement.

In his letter to schools, Mendoza urged staff not to ask students who have recently traveled to areas affected by the virus to remain home. “There is no need to take that level of precaution at this time,” he said.

Mendoza pointed to the flu virus, which has sent more than 260 people to the hospital in Monroe County this season, as a more proximate concern. He advised staff to encourage cough-covering and hand-washing at school.

Those steps reduce transmission of most respiratory infections, including novel coronavirus, Mendoza said.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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