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Memo to public employees highlights number of U.S. cases, symptoms, prevention suggestions of new illness

As the news about the coronavirus continues to circulate and escalate and with new cases cropping up in the U.S., Crook County health officials have begun to reach out.

A memo was emailed to all Crook County and city of Prineville staff and employees this past Friday discussing what they know about the virus, as well as travel guidance and prevention suggestions.

"Many of you may have either seen in the news or heard through social media, friends and family about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus," the memo from Crook County Health Department stated about the virus that originated in Wuhan, China. "Please know that your local Crook County Health Department is participating in multiple meetings each week in the way of workgroups and conference calls with our local tri-county representation, Oregon Health Authority and CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and we are very closely monitoring every aspect of what is happening globally and in the U.S."

According to PlushCare, a virtual health platform that offers primary health care and virtual doctor's visits to patients in all 50 states, coronavirus was recently declared a global health emergency. As of Monday, it had killed at least 362 people and sickened more than 17,400 worldwide, including 11 patients in the United States.

Local health officials reported that the coronavirus causes mild to severe illness in the lungs. People who are ill with the virus may have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

"We do not know how long it takes for signs of illness to show up after someone is exposed to Novel Coronavirus," the county memo added. "With other coronaviruses, signs of illness usually show up two to 14 days after a person is exposed to the virus. Early information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may have a higher risk of severe illness and complications from this virus. Many of the deaths that have been reported were older individuals with underlying health conditions."

County health officials said they are still learning about how this new coronavirus spreads. Still, they noted that other coronaviruses spread through animals or droplets from the coughs and sneezes of people who have the illness.

Health department leaders said the tri-county health departments are working closely with St. Charles and other local medical facilities to continue to prepare for and enhance response not just to the coronavirus, but to any health-related threat to our communities.

The memo explained that the risk of getting the disease is related to exposure.

"At this time, CDC has only seen one case of Novel Coronavirus spreading from person to person in the U.S., and this is within the family of one of the original confirmed cases in Illinois," health leaders said. "Based on that information, we currently believe that the risk to most Oregonians is low. The situation is changing hourly, so we will continue to reassess risks to Oregonians and update the public if that assessment changes."

The memo went on to say that as of Jan. 30, there were no known cases of the virus in Oregon, and the first and nearest U.S. case was reported Jan. 21 in Washington state.

"The case had recently traveled from Wuhan, China. As of the morning of Jan. 30, we have six cases in the U.S. in 4 states — Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois. Cases have been confirmed in 18 other countries, primarily in travelers who had been to Wuhan, China.

Most cases have been in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in China."

The county memo recommends that travelers check the CDC's travel information for their destination prior to travel.

"If you have been to China within the past 14 days and are ill with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider to identify the safest way to seek care. This is to prevent exposing others."

To protect friends and family, health officials suggest consistent, thorough hand washing and using hand sanitizer. People are urged to stay home if they are sick, and if they see symptoms like this virus, it is recommended they make an appointment right away with their doctor or caregiver.

Though the coronavirus is gaining a lot of attention, the county health department points out that people are more likely to get sick with other more common illnesses.

"Be aware that you are more likely to be exposed to influenza this time of year than you are to the new coronavirus," health officials stressed. "Influenza rates are still on the rise. It's not too late to get a flu shot if you haven't already."

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