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Winter is already cold and flu season in Colorado, and according to the Chaffee County Department of Public Health, both Type A and Type B flu are already circulating in the county. The season now coincides with the global spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has already infected more than 81,000 people across 56 countries. The global death toll from coronavirus is approaching 3,000, representing around a two percent mortality rate. By comparison regular influenza has a mortality rate  of 0.5 percent.

A communications this week from the Chaffee County Department of Public Health reassures residents that “[the dept.] is working with local, regional and state partners to monitor coronavirus disease 2019.”

Hand washing image courtesy of the CDC.

The Health Department says it is watchful for potential cases of what is a global health threat, but reassures Chaffee County that the risk here is low. That said, it also adds that “based on past disease outbreaks – including outbreaks of related coronaviruses – we know that identifying cases quickly and responding to them effectively is key to limiting and stopping the spread of disease.”

Department of Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom says that Colorado and Chaffee County have a strong disease surveillance system in place. They routinely prepare for public health emergencies, and practice emergency operations plans specifically to address public health crisis when they emerge.

With the rising fears of the spread of the coronavirus, while dealing with the existing flu season, it makes sense to follow the commonsense health advice dispensed every year at this time.

Chaffee Public Health experts recommend:

  • First and easiest to do: wash your hands frequently – wash at least 20 seconds, with soap
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap isn’t handy
  • Consider greeting people in another way other than shaking hands
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with tissue or your inner elbow shirt sleeve
  • When possible push open doors rather than grab door handles
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Stay home if you’re sick and consider a work-from-home arrangement
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • If you develop a dry cough, fever, see your doctor.

Image courtesy of Popular Science.

From a practical standpoint, our biggest germ carriers are often our phones, laptops, tablets and TV remote controls. Wipe them down often with alcohol-based wipes. Don’t take your phone with you when you go to eat. Put it in your purse or pocket, not on the table. Don’t hand your phone to others.

Remember that the people most susceptible to flu, or any communicable disease, are the elderly, the young, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. If you are feeling ill, avoid putting them at risk.

Health Department officials assure us it isn’t time to prepare for any potential lockdowns related to local spread of COVID-19. But there are some suggestions that emergency response professionals say should be considered if the disease were to spread and quarantines were needed:

  • Have potable water available; in case you need to move about, a supply of bottled water is wise.
  • Have a two week supply of groceries  on hand, so that if you can’t get to the store, or the grocers are out of food, you can feed your family.
  • Make sure you have a good supply on hand of baby formula and diapers – at least a month’s-worth.
  • If you have a chronic health condition that requires medicine, check to see if you can lay in a supply of additional medicine, or consider how that medicine can reach you if you can’t leave your home.
  • Plan ahead for the realities that school closures might bring, and talk with your employer about the company’s plans for workers. Work-at-home situations go smoother when planning is done ahead of time.
  • Consider that during emergencies people need not just food, water, and medicines — but that having some cash on hand might be useful because cash machines might be out.
  • Make sure you have hand soap and bleach on hand, and consider keeping sanitized hand wipes, and anti-bacterial lotions and cleansers on your supply shelf. Check strengths – Any cleaning solutions you use should be at least 60 percent alcohol.

A supply of face masks, is not yet required. Online sellers are jacking up the price of masks — in some cases to astronomical levels — so buyers should beware.

At present, use of face masks (the only one that actually does protect against the COVID-19 virus is the N95 type mask) is recommended only for first responders; health care workers who may come in contact with those presenting with symptoms.

Public health officials are warning that some people have overreacted to the situation and doing things like avoiding Chinese restaurants. There is no evidence at this time that eating at a restaurant, or visiting with people of other ethnicities can give you the virus.

Social media is sprouting rumors; such as telling people to drink bleach to avoid getting the coronavirus. Not only is this not true, that dangerous action could kill you.

That said, COVID-19 is a global health emergency. It needs to be taken seriously, and not politicized.

Saturday morning, Feb. 29, CNN weekend anchor Michael Smerconish did a segment with guest health officials concerned about a gap in coronavirus oversight. Their concern;  the continuing lack of what are called ‘point of contact testing kits’ at hospitals and clinics. While on the air he received a social media message that read “You Commie, stop rooting for the virus.”

Factual and scientifically-based media coverage of a public health threat is not political, nor is it subversive. According to Dr. Alan Hynek, “Science is without prejudice. It doesn’t believe, it just is.”

In line with its public health mission “to promote an environment where individuals and families in our community are healthy, safe and self sufficient, Chaffee County Public Health has recommended these reputable sources for information: