Editor’s note: This story was published prior to Gov. Andy Beshear’s announcement after our print deadline that a case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Lexington. For more, pick up future editions of the News-Express.
There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Kentucky yet, but local and state health officials recommend that local residents still practice good hygiene and be prepared.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee declared the virus a “public health emergency of international concern.” The following day, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency in the U.S.
As of presstime Friday, there have been 164 reported cases of the virus and 11 confirmed deaths in the U.S., with 19 states reporting cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday afternoon, one case was confirmed in Williamson County, Tennessee.
According to the CDC, 36 of the 164 cases were travel-related, 18 were from person-to-person spread and 110 cases were under investigation.
Local and state health officials in Kentucky want to reassure Kentuckians, though, that they should not panic, but take health precautions and practice good hygiene.
Locally, Pike County Health Department’s public health director Tammy Riley said the health department has been in regular communication with stakeholders in Pike County and first responders involved in emergency management, including Pike County Emergency Management Director Doug Tackett, to create an emergency preparedness plan in the event of a coronavirus case in Pike County.
At the Pike County Health Department, Riley said, there is a highly-trained emergency preparedness coordinator and an individual from the Department of Public Health serving as the regional epidemiologist who is on site every week and in regular communication with the Pike County Health Department.
“We are doing everything per the CDC’s and Department of Public Health’s guidelines in the event that Pike County experiences any cases of coronavirus,” Riley said. “While this (COVID-19) is widespread, the risk for Pike County is still considered very low.”
Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough or shortness of breath. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, according to the CDC.
The following are important recommendations Riley gave to help local residents protect themselves from the spread of the virus:
• 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 percent alcohol.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, including through hugging, kissing and sharing cups or utensils.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Get your flu vaccination.
• Stay home when you are sick, except to seek medical attention if symptoms become severe. Consider telemedicine phone apps for non-emergency medical care.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects, like phones and door handles, and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• Follow the CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask:
• Facemasks should only 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 with the virus in close settings.
• The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
At the state level, Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Thursday that Department of Public Health began testing for COVID-19 at its state laboratory in Frankfort on Monday.
Beshear said in the statement that the state has tested, or is in the process of testing, seven individuals. Four tests have been negative and three are pending. According to Beshear, “all of these individuals were not at high risk and were tested out of an abundance of caution.”
“I want to reassure Kentuckians that we are still at low risk for exposure to the virus at this time,” Beshear said in his statement. “Every state without COVID-19 cases has been advised that this is highly likely to change. It is imperative that we be prepared. And that is why we want to keep the public aware of not only our new testing efforts, but the efforts that local public health professionals are making to protect Kentuckians.”
The Department of Public Health said in a statement Thursday that it is monitoring people who might have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days by contacting each person, collecting travel and health history information and determining the risk level for COVID-2019 exposure. The Department of Public Health has monitored 121 people in Kentucky, of those 10 are still being actively monitored. None of those are persons under investigation.
“Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have recently traveled to China, Iran and other countries currently affected by COVID-19, or have been in contact with someone who has traveled to affected areas should first contact their local health department,” according to the Department of Public Health’s statement. “Exposed people should limit contact with others by staying at home, avoiding public gatherings like school or church and not taking public transportation.”
Beshear said state officials are coordinating with local and federal officials and the Department of Public Health is connecting with partner agencies, including schools, childcare providers, emergency medical services, health care providers and local health departments through daily messaging. These communication efforts, Beshear said, help to provide guidance for providers’ immediate response to local needs.
Beshear also warned Kentuckians to be suspicious of scammers and “con artists” claiming to have a cure for the newest strain of the virus.
“Only legitimate medical authorities are working with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to create a vaccine for COVID-19,” Beshear said in a statement. “If, and when, a vaccine is approved, Kentuckians should ask their family doctor or government health officials for information on how to obtain a vaccine.”
To avoid identity thieves, Beshear recommended that Kentuckians should:
• Watch out for products that claim to cure coronavirus or guarantee coronavirus prevention.
• Be wary of emails from “con artists” pretending to be the CDC or other public health organizations. A legitimate medical provider would never ask for sensitive information through email.
• Research organizations that are claiming to raise money for a coronavirus vaccine or to help victims.
For all up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website at, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/.
Visit the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s website for all up-to-date state information at, https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/pages/covid19.aspx.
The Pike County Health Department is located at 119 River Drive, and it can be reached at, (606) 437-5500, or online at, https://www.pikecountyhealth.com/v4i/.