Coronavirus update: Health Care Agency issues guidance for schools, colleges

OC Health Care Agency building frontThe novel coronavirus, or COVID-1, is a new respiratory virus that was first identified in Wuhan City, China. It has since spread to other countries, including the United States.

While the Orange County Health Care Agency acknowledges the “situation is rapidly evolving,” officials say the risk to the general public is low, as only one case has been identified in the county and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission locally.

“If you have not been to Wuhan, China, or been in close contact with someone who has been to Wuhan and is sick, your risk is very low,” the HCA says on its website.

Below is a running digest, with newer developments posted at the top.

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Updated at 2:19 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2020

OC Health Care Agency updates guidance for schools and colleges

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Friday updated its guidance for schools, colleges and universities, and officials have posted new recommendations specific to preschools and childcare facilities.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking healthy travelers returning from China to self-quarantine for 14 days, noting that students who self-quarantine should be excused from school during this period.

The Health Care Agency says it is contacting individuals who meet that criteria to provide instructions for self-quarantine upon their return. HCA officials say they will also contact them at the end of their quarantine period.

Those identified at the highest risk of developing illness are being monitored by federal, state and/or local public health officials, according to the HCA’s guidance. If the high-risk person being monitored is a student, the HCA will exclude them from school for 14 days from their last exposure and will communicate with the school, college or university to ensure the student is excluded for the identified period.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and as guidance on this subject changes, the HCA will provide updates,” the agency says.

The CDC is not currently recommending that masks be mandated for staff or students. It does, however, acknowledge that the wearing of masks is common in many countries, saying individuals should exercise their own discretion in their use.

The guidance adds that “face masks are most useful for preventing disease spread when they are worn by people who have symptoms. This is why people are asked to wear a mask at doctors’ offices and hospitals if they are coughing or sneezing. As always, the HCA recommends that persons who are ill stay home to limit transmission of all viruses.”

For more information, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.

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Updated at 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2020

OC Health Care Agency puts out coronavirus infographic

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Monday published a new infographic with some basic facts about the novel coronavirus.

The one-pager, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, explains how it’s spread, what symptoms are associated with the illness, and what steps you can take to protect yourself from airborne respiratory diseases.

Novel coronavirus infographic

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Updated at 8:08 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2020

Health Care Agency issues guidance for schools, colleges and universities

A day after federal officials declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency in the U.S., the Orange County Health Care Agency has issued interim guidance for schools, colleges and universities.

As part of the emergency declaration, travelers returning from China will face a health screening and up to two weeks of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they pose no health risk. The HCA says students who self-quarantine should be excused from school during this period.

Screenshot of Health Care Agency guidance

School nurses and student health centers should follow standard environmental infection control procedures for healthcare settings, according to the agency. If students report symptoms, school officials should ask if they have recently traveled to China.

Orange County continues to have only one confirmed case of novel coronavirus — a man in his 50s has been isolated and is in good condition — and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission locally. Health Care Agency officials say the risk to the public in the county and throughout the United States remains low.

The HCA issued its guidance for schools and other educational settings on Saturday evening. Along with general information on the novel coronavirus, the five-page document outlines the steps the agency is taking to ensure the safety of residents and health care workers and offers strategies to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness.

You can download the HCA’s guidance for schools, colleges and universities by clicking on the graphic above or the link below:

School Guidance February 1, 2020

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Updated at 2:28 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2020

CDC not recommending surgical masks for the public

Reflecting concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that started in China, surgical masks are increasingly appearing on school campuses and have become popular enough in the U.S. that some retailers are selling out.

But are surgical masks effective?

While experts say there’s not really any harm in wearing them, they are not considered an effective way for asymptomatic people to avoid influenza and other airborne respiratory viruses, says Pamela Kahn, OCDE’s coordinator of Health and Wellness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a surgical mask, unlike the tight-fitting N95 respirator worn by physicians, “does not provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection.”

The CDC isn’t recommending wearing masks in public. But officials say Americans should frequently and thoroughly wash their hands, cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home if they experience symptoms commonly associated with the flu. In fact, here are some proven ways to help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses.

For more information, check out the OC Health Care Agency’s list of frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus.

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Updated at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020

Agencies recommend regular flu prevention measures

Because the novel coronavirus that originated in China has so far not been found to be spreading from person to person in the United States, no additional precautions are recommended for the general public, County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said Monday in a video statement.

“Our residents should go about their daily lives with no changes to planned activities,” Dr. Quick said.

The OC Health Care Agency said it will issue new guidance should circumstances change. In the meantime, the CDC continues to advise regular preventative measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including hand-washing and covering up coughs and sneezes.

For those who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China and feel sick, the HCA website advises to avoid contact with others and seek medical care immediately. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, patients should call ahead and tell the medical staff about their recent travel and symptoms.

Here’s Dr. Quick’s full statement:

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Updated at 9 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2020

Local coronavirus case confirmed; public remains at low risk

The Orange County Health Care Agency has issued an update on the novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in China.

The agency confirmed over the weekend that a man in his 50s had tested positive for the virus in Orange County after traveling to Wuhan, China. There is no evidence that person-to-person transmission has occurred within the county, and HCA officials say the risk of infection to the public in Orange County is low.

“If you have not been to Wuhan, China, or been in close contact with someone who has been to Wuhan and is sick, your risk is very low,” the HCA says on its website.

Orange County Health Care Agency buildingSimilar guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that people who have casual contact with a case — examples include being in the same grocery store or movie theater — are at minimal risk of developing infection.

Meanwhile, there are proven ways to stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses, including influenza.

The HCA said it provided guidance to the traveler upon his arrival to reduce exposure to the public while they awaited lab results from the CDC. The man is currently in good condition at a local hospital, where he is being treated in isolation.

The California Department of Public Health says another case has been confirmed in Los Angeles County. No others have been identified in California.

“The California Department of Public Health has been preparing for this situation by working closely with local health departments and health care providers,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell.

“We are supporting ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency to respond to these cases, and will continue working with our partners to monitor for any additional cases that may occur in California, to ensure that persons can be safely and effectively evaluated for this novel virus, and to protect the health of the people of California,” Angell said.

The first known cases of 2019-nCoV — short for “2019 novel coronavirus” — were reported in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS. A novel coronavirus — often shown as “nCoV” — is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

In consultation with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, the HCA said it was following up directly with all individuals who have had close contact with the local case and are at risk of infection.

We’ll continue to post as we hear more. For the latest updates, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.