Health departments around the D.C. region are closely watching coronavirus developments, with testing happening in potential cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
D.C.’s Health Department said, as of Tuesday, two people are awaiting results from testing, and one person has already tested negative for novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.
In Maryland, a state public health official said the testing of a resident for the new coronavirus is still underway — and, in the meantime, she explained what people can do to protect themselves.
Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health for Maryland’s Department of Health, told WTOP that patient privacy prevented her from saying anything more about the identity or location of the Maryland resident who met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for testing on Monday, but that they were the first person in the state to be so tested.
Those criteria include “flu-like symptoms and a travel history or recent contact with a confirmed case” of the coronavirus, Phillips said. A specimen was flown to the CDC in Atlanta to be examined, she said.
The virus began in Wuhan, China, but has since spread to at least 13 countries. Thousands of people have been made sick, and more than 100 have died.
Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, a George Mason University student is “self-isolating” as they await results from the CDC, the university said Monday. The student does not live on campus.
Two other people in central Virginia tested negative, state health officials said Monday.
To keep up with the latest on coronavirus statuses within the region, check out each health department’s website:
Phillips said though the coronavirus is powerful, it is not a completely unfamiliar.
“The coronavirus is a large family of different respiratory viruses,” Phillips said. “We understand how they’re transmitted.”
That means we understand how to protect ourselves. The steps are basically the same as with any other similar virus, such as the regular flu — “the same that we have recommended in the past,” Phillips said.
First off, get a flu shot. “That’s a measure of protection that is unparalleled for [influenza],” she said.
Hand-washing “can’t be beat,” she added — January is prime time for the spread of all kinds of viruses, and “there are viruses on surfaces throughout public spaces.”
She added that you should stay home if you’re sick and “do everyone a favor and cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow.” The “respiratory droplets” that you push into the air through coughs and sneezes can spread surprisingly far.
Unless you have a diagnosed weak immune system, though, or you’re on medications that can lower it, you don’t need to wear a surgical mask in public, Phillips said.
And, if you do have symptoms or the kind of travel history that puts you at risk, you need to see the doctor pronto.
That said, Phillips added, “it’s important to call ahead to the facility where you’re headed, so they can take steps to make sure that you don’t inadvertently expose other people.”
On Tuesday, the CDC announced some new steps they’re taking to fight the coronavirus. They’ve issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for all of China, meaning they recommend people avoid any nonessential travel to the entire country.
The CDC is also screening arrivals at five U.S. airports that had direct flights from China – none of which are in the D.C. area. But they are monitoring for illness and providing educational materials for any travelers arriving from China at Dulles International Airport, which is one of 20 quarantine areas in the U.S.
WTOP’s Teta Alim and Dick Uliano contributed to this report.
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