This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on February 25, 2020
Concerned about the looming coronavirus threat in the United States? Know this: Eagle County and Vail Health officials, among other key stakeholders, have been meeting regularly for weeks to discuss response options for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
There has yet to be a reported case of COVID-19 in Eagle County. However, Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a news conference Tuesday that the agency is bracing for a pandemic in the United States and expects a sustained spread of the disease.
Given the fact that Eagle County is home to two world-renowned ski resorts that cater to international travelers who arrive here from Denver International Airport — the fifth-busiest airport in the country — or directly from other major U.S. cities via the local regional airport, it’s not hard to connect the dots.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have occurred since the new virus emerged in China.
When, not if
State health officials agree that it is only a matter of time before cases emerge in Colorado and locally.
Rebecca Larson, epidemiologist and deputy director for Eagle County Public Health and Environment, urged caution in a county release issued Tuesday, saying most cases of the coronavirus are relatively mild.
“Approximately 80% or more have had fever, with cough or aches and have recovered without needing any special medical treatment,” she said. “The greatest risk for severe illness and complications is among older adults, especially those 80 years of age or older or people with pre-existing health conditions.”
Caitlyn Ngam, Vail Health’s infection preventionist, wrote in an email to the Vail Daily that hospital officials are following the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have detailed COVID-19 travel screening procedures we have put in place, including by phone and in-person. If a case does present itself, the priorities are isolating the patient to prevent the spread of the disease, protecting our staff, informing the Eagle County Public Health Department, and assessing the need for testing,” Ngam said. “We recommend that patients with more mild symptoms stay at home. As needed, depending on the severity of illness and health department consultation, home care guidance and home isolation guidance are recommended by the CDC. If the patient develops new or worsening fever or respiratory illness, they can call their provider to determine if reevaluation is needed.”
Vail Resorts keeping a close eye
Vail Resorts, in a statement to the Vail Daily, also said it is closely monitoring new reports and CDC releases.
“At Vail Resorts, the health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority,” the statement read. “We’re closely monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization’s statements regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) cases and following the guidelines from these agencies and local health departments.”
The U.S. announced its 15th case of coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the total number of infected people in the country to 60. No details were released immediately on the newest case. But the higher count includes people who traveled back from outbreak areas in Asia: three who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan and 42 Americans who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.
Communication is critical
Ngam outlined some of the ways Vail Health and county officials have been coordinating a response strategy and stressed that communication “is absolutely key.” Among the many planning scenarios, local health care partners have been working through is how to handle a surge of patients seeking care.
“A task force, consisting of members from Vail Health, Eagle County Public Health, Eagle County Paramedic Services and more, have been meeting regularly during the past five weeks to monitor the situation and discuss protocols and plans,” she said. “We are updating our staff regularly on COVID-19 and have sent them recommendations on how to properly prepare themselves, their family and their work unit for the worst-case scenario. We must prioritize protecting health workers by reinforcing the training our staff has and making sure we have appropriate supplies and personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, gloves, goggles and gowns.”
Ngam also said that community members should anticipate disruption to everyday life and should be prepared. This means preparing to stay at home for a duration of time.
Eagle County Director of Public Health and Environment Heath Harmon said the way the virus is currently spreading is evidence of the need to be prepared at the local level.
“Let’s face it, we have a lot of residents who travel internationally and we welcome those international travelers into our community,” Harmon said. “We don’t want people to panic. We do want people to know there are many actions that can be taken to protect yourself. In addition, we want people to know these are the same actions that will slow the spread and benefit the community as a whole.”
In the event of an outbreak, information will be posted at ECemergency.org. This will include links to current information from local, state and national public health sources.
People concerned that they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection should stay home and call their healthcare provider. After the assessment, if healthcare providers are concerned that a patient’s symptoms may be related to COVID-19, they are asked to contact public health officials. For more information, visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/COVID19.
To help prevent illness
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and properly dispose of it.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, for at least 20 seconds, especially before and after touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative if you don’t have access to a sink and soap.
Employers are encouraged to:
- Encourage people to stay home when they are sick.
- Send home staff who become sick at work. Rest is important for their recovery, as well as preventing transmission in the work environment.
- Encourage people to wash their hands frequently.
- Disinfect surfaces on a regular basis and promote the availability of disposable wipes for keyboards, and other surfaces that are frequently used.
- Consider flexible work options for employees that can work from home.
- Healthy people who recently traveled may return to work unless otherwise indicated by Public Health.
If you get sick:
- Stay home if you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
- Wear a face mask (surgical mask if you have one) or cover your cough and sneeze.
- Wash your hands frequently and don’t share personal items (drinking glass or utensils) with others.
- Call your health care provider. Do not show up at a clinic, urgent care or the emergency department unannounced.
- Your doctor’s office will assess your illness on the phone, which may include information or other guidance for you and your household members.
- Testing for COVID-19 is not a routine test. Your health care provider will work with local and state public health officials to determine who should be tested for COVID-19. All testing is currently limited to those with the highest risk of exposure.
- Since many of the illnesses are mild, we expect most COVID-19 patients will be isolated in their own home to rest and recover. If possible, sleep in a bedroom and use a bathroom that is not used by other household members.
- There is no antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids will likely be helpful for recovery. Only the most critically ill will be hospitalized.