WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For a virus that’s shutdown a country, forced schools and restaurants to close across the globe, and killed over 7,000 people worldwide, the leading epidemiologist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center says COVID-19 is relatively easy to kill. It’s people not following guidelines that makes it dangerous and deadly.
“The nice thing about coronavirus--if there is a nice thing—is it’s a relatively puny virus in terms of being able to inactivate,” says Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, chief epidemiologist at NHRMC. "It’s an envelope to viruses so plain ole’ soap and water should do just fine because it would disrupt the envelope around the virus. So, it’s not a hard virus to kill on your hands or on your surfaces. We just have to be diligent about doing it.”
Via Skype, Dr. Kamitsuka joined Phillip Tarte, Director of the New Hanover County Health Department Tuesday night for a WECT Community Chat. WECT’s Frances Weller hosted the live chat on Facebook.
Hundreds of viewers asked questions ranging from whether you can contract the virus from a mosquito (the answer is no) to how long the virus lives on surfaces like grocery store carts.
“That’s a good question,” Dr. Kamitsuka said. “The best data I’ve seen is something like three to four hours, something like that on a hard, non-porous surface.”
Tarte addressed the fact there limited coronavirus test kits in the Cape Fear region. He would not give an exact number but said he feels confident those who need to be tested will be. He said drive-thru testing has been discussed but that could be down the road.
“What is going to limit any drive-thru site, whether we’re doing rapid flu testing or whether we’re doing COVID comes down to the supplies that we have,” Tarte said. “I will say it has been discussed but again it’s limited based on the supplies that come forward.
Both Tarte and Kamitsuka say its just a matter of time before New Hanover County sees its first case.
"We all understand it’s inevitable that we will get a case,” Tarte said. “Our hope is that we contain that case and those cases are at a minimum versus what we saw two months ago in Asia."
Kamitsuka says by no means should this area get complacent given there’s only been one presumptive case in Brunswick County. He firmly believes that unless the public heeds the advice on ways to prevent the disease from spreading, this crisis could get much worse.
“I don’t think we should drop our guard,” Kamitsuka said. “This is in fact a world pandemic so we need to take it very seriously, but we should not be panicking or overreacting. We should be following very closely the imperative of social distancing and hygiene and avoiding crowds.”