As coronavirus spreads around the world, health and government officials continue to share updates and tips on how to best protect yourself and your family. If you’re in generally good health, there’s likely no need to be overly concerned, but families and New Jersey as a whole are still gearing up for the worst case scenario should an outbreak happen in our area. The public health risk to the general population is still considered low at this time, says the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH). With NJ’s first two presumptive positive diagnoses already publicly announced, state officials are outlining plans for how NJ schools and colleges would operate if they had to close as a safety precaution due to a viral outbreak. Here’s what you need to know.
COVID-19 in New Jersey
New Jersey’s first probable case of coronavirus was announced last night on March 4. Governor Murphy announced on Twitter last night that the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, a man in his 30s with a residence in Fort Lee, is being evaluated at Hackensack University Medical Center and has been there since March 3. The sample was tested by the (NJDOH) and New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratories (PHEL), and is being submitted to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for further confirmation testing.
On March 5, the second probable positive diagnosis was made public, a man from Englewood. Now in isolation at Englewood Health, the patient tested positive for COVID-19, but will be considered a presumptive positive until the CDC confirms the test. There’s only one lab that can test for this novel coronavirus in NJ. As of 6 pm on March 5, 13 people have been tested, only two of which were positive. There are eight people under investigation being considered for testing, according to Chris Neuwirth, an assistant health commissioner.
The tweet’s attached notice didn’t mention whether the man had recently traveled out of the country or was in contact with any other infected individuals. Murphy was quoted in the notice saying, “My Administration is working aggressively to keep residents safe and contain the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey. We take this situation very seriously and have been preparing for this for weeks. I urge residents to remain calm and use resources from the New Jersey Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control to prepare and prevent the spread of infection. Safeguarding the public’s health is one of my highest priorities and my Administration is prepared to respond swiftly to any additional positive cases of COVID-19 here in New Jersey.”
Murphy recommends that those with questions should visit nj.gov/health or call the 24-hour public hotline at 1-800-222-1222.
A Plan of Action
After the CDC released national guidelines for schools regarding coronavirus, New Jersey released its own. One survey administered last week to more than 115 school districts by northjersey.com revealed that many schools hadn’t received any NJ-specific guidance regarding home school instruction or quarantines, including Haledon, Madison, Mendham and more. Only about 25 districts responded to the survey. Since then, the NJDOH has released guidelines for childcare facilities and schools to heed in the event of an outbreak. In terms of preparation, it’s suggested that schools update their pandemic plan and share with stakeholders prior to an outbreak. Institutions should brace for sending students and staff members home who appear sick; closures, cancellations and early dismissals from school, and the need for home class instruction for students. One school in Holmdel is prepared for virtual classes, with the ability to record lessons and upload them onto an online platform for students to watch remotely.
Flexible attendance and sick leave policies should be offered, and an emergency communication plan should be put in place, including a leadership team with a clear task flow and responsibilities. Workshops and training for staff about prevention are also recommended.
In the event that a student or staff member shows symptoms of this novel strain of coronavirus in New Jersey, local health officials can help identify the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal conditions like the common cold and influenza. Students with fever, cough or breathing difficulties should be isolated and wear a face mask until they can go home, and staff members should be sent home and seek medical advice. Schools aren’t expected to screen or identify cases of COVID-19.
If a student or staff member has recently returned from a country other than China, he or she should notify the school and monitor their health. If they don’t feel well, they should stay home until being fever-free for 24 hours without taking a fever reducer. Avoid contact with others and seek medical advice for respiratory symptoms and fever. If a student or staff member has recently returned from a trip to China in the last 14 days, they will undergo a health screening and a potential two-week quarantine with health monitoring until they’re determined not to be a public health risk. Asymptomatic individuals who just got back from China must be excluded from work and school for at least 14 days, and self-monitor their symptoms.
If there’s a community outbreak, school closures and dismissals are two non-pharmaceutical strategies that may be used to limit transmission. As long as staff members are in good health, they can deliver lessons remotely to students, who can stay at home. Schools may close preemptively or reactively, and should work with local health officials when making these decisions.
How Worried Should You Be?
You may be nervous (and rightfully so), but there’s no reason to be overly worried if you and your family members are in good health. “More than 80 percent of people who get coronavirus only experience mild symptoms, and they go on to have a full recovery,” says Daniel Hart, MD, Medical Director of Infectious Diseases and Travel Medicine at Summit Medical Group/City MD. “Older people and those with serious medical conditions are at higher risk.”
According to the CDC, there’s also no evidence that kids are more susceptible to the virus (in most cases in China, it’s been reported primarily in adults). Reports from China say when kids do get sick, it’s mostly mild cold-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose and cough.
How to Stay Healthy
There’s currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, and the best method of prevention is avoidance of exposure. According to the NJDOH, most people with mild coronavirus will recover on their own by drinking lots of fluids, getting adequate rest and taking pain and fever medication. Those who develop pneumonia from more serious cases will need hospital treatment.
Here are some tips from the CDC for protecting your family:
- Coronaviruses are generally spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. This means it’s crucial to cough or sneeze into a tissue and quickly dispose of it, plus avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands.
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick. If you’re sick, stay home.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after using the bathroom and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. If soap and water aren’t accessible, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- If you’re healthy, there’s no need to wear a face mask. Those who do show symptoms should wear face masks to prevent potential spread to others. Health workers or caretakers in close contact with others absolutely must wear face masks.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with household cleaning spray or disinfectant wipes.
- Avoid unnecessary travel to high-risk countries like China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. These are nations considered to have sustained ongoing community transmission to widespread sustained transmission. Iran and China have suspended entry of foreign nationals at this time.
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