Health officials say New York City is ready for potential coronavirus cases

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Fears of the coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people and sickened more than 4,500 in China continue to grow in the United States after several confirmed cases and dozens more under investigation.

New York City health officials held a press conference to calm fears and dispel rumors, as well as ensure the public they are prepared for any local cases.

"I am pleased to say we have had no diagnosis of coronavirus in New York City," health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said. "There have been no individuals that have risen to the level of even thinking about or collecting specimens to send for diagnosis. The only way we are able to have that level of certainty is through collaboration and communication."

Dr. Barbot went on to say that the community needs to focus on facts not fears, specifically perpetuating stereotypes promulgated on social media.

"At this point in time, there is no reason to avoid subways or restaurants or change our daily routine," she said.

So far, there are no confirmed cases in New York state, though 10 people were tested after showing symptoms similar to the illness. Seven have been found to be negative, and results are pending for the other three.

"While we continue to closely monitor the spread of this novel coronavirus, I have directed our Department of Health to continue communicating with and providing updates to our local communities, healthcare providers, colleges, universities and New York companies with locations or business interests in China," Governor Andrew Cuomo said. "My message to New Yorkers is: take this coronavirus seriously, take proper precautions, stay informed, but also feel confident that our Health Department and this administration are prepared and ready."

The health department continues to provide guidance to colleges and universities, many of which have international students from China, on how to identify the virus, update students and promote prevention measures.

"We encourage all New Yorkers to take normal precautions against sickness, such as regular hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. "We will continue to work with our partners at the CDC and around the state as we assist in any way necessary to ensure the health of all New Yorkers."

All New York City hospitals and health providers are now trained to identify symptoms and evaluate patients who may present symptoms for coronavirus, which include cough, shortness of breath, and fever. Additionally, the city has established transport protocols for individuals who may present symptoms of coronavirus and be in need of a medical evaluation, infection prevention and control measures at all New York City hospitals, instructions on specimen collection and other preparations.

While initially thought to only spread through prolonged exposure, more recent epidemiology indicates that person-to-person transmission is possible. While some infections have resulted in severe illness, and even death, others have presented mild, flu-like symptoms and been discharged from care.

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The CDC recommends people avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan. For travel deemed essential, the Health Department has shared the following CDC recommendations with healthcare providers regarding travelers to Wuhan:
--Avoid contact with sick people
--Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat);
--Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
--Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
--Older travelers and those with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider.

For those who recently traveled to Wuhan and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, CDC recommends:
--Seek medical care right away. Before going to a doctor's office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about recent travel and symptoms.
--Avoid contact with others.
--Not travel while sick.
--Cover mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not hands) when coughing or sneezing.
--Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

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