New Hanover County, NHRMC preparing for possible coronavirus cases

No confirmed cases in county or state
Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 11:12 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Preparations are underway in New Hanover County to deal with potential impacts from the novel coronavirus in the community.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Hanover County or North Carolina, which means the risk of the virus in our community is low.

“We exercise and regularly plan for emerging illnesses and infectious diseases, so we have a framework in place to respond if needed. We are modifying those plans specific to this virus now in case we need it in the future,” said New Hanover County Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Lisa Brown.

Health department officials say it’s still a good idea to practice good hygiene, like a person normally would during flu season.

“Wash your hands, cover your cough and sneezes. If you’re sick, stay home from work. All of those preparedness actions to keep you well during flu season are exactly the same actions that we’re asking everybody to take for all respiratory illnesses including the coronavirus, COVID-19,” Brown said.

New Hanover County Public Health and Emergency Management is in contact with several partners around the region and state to make sure plans are in place in the event COVID-19 impacts the community.

One of those partners, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, is also prepared for potential cases.

“We’ve been meeting for the past several weeks, a multidisciplinary group, trying to coordinate our preparedness for the eventuality of a spread within the United States,” said Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, the chief epidemiologist at NHRMC.

Dr. Kamitsuka says the most important things are to make sure the protocols are in place for the isolation of possible patients so we can detect them and make sure personal protective equipment is available in adequate supply.

He says quarantining potential patients wouldn’t be a problem at the hospital.

“We have 52 isolation rooms, which is much more than any other hospitals. These are rooms that are negative pressure -- designed to prevent the spread of isolated patients with diseases like the COVID-19,” said Kamitsuka.

NHRMC’s plans are evolving as more news comes out about the coronavirus.

“We just heard about this case in California, where they had no contact with suspected COVID-19 or traveled to China. This really raises the ante in terms of community spread, which we think is possible and possibly inevitable. We’ll have to see. Much is not known of this virus, so we’re trying to keep on the cutting edge,” said Kamitsuka.

Dr. Kamitsuka believes the risk factor for the United States is still unknown.

“We’ll have to see if other cases arise. One of the issues is that there has been difficulty getting rapid testing of patients. Right now, the only testing kit is from the CDC. Hopefully we’ll get that rapidly disseminated to public health departments around the country so that we’ll be able to confirm diagnoses more quickly.”

Kamitsuka echoed a lot of the county’s advice, wash your hands frequently and cover your cough.

“This virus is spread in a fashion very similar to the flu, as far as we know. The most important thing with flu prevention, in addition to those measures, is to be sure you have received the flu vaccine, so it’s not too late.”

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