State urges peope to be prepared for coronavirus impacts
People need to be prepared for big disruptions to their daily lives but it’s really the little things that make a difference when it comes to controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state’s chief medical officer said this weekend.
“Hand washing is incredibly important,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska.
Washing hands and keeping fingers away from faces is the best way to prevent the spread of germs, Zink told about 50 people gathered for a previously scheduled legislative town hall meeting in Chugiak on Saturday.
“It’s hard to emphasize that enough but please — stop touching your face, please wash your hands as often as possible,” Zink said.
Zink said the state is actively monitoring the spread of the disease, which has sickened thousands of people worldwide and as of Monday had caused two deaths in Washington. On Saturday, the State of Washington declared a state of emergency due to the virus.
Zink said the disease has not been detected in Alaska, but it’s important Alaskans prepare for the possibility it may arrive here.
“As Alaskans we know we need to be prepared for an earthquake or other changes so making sure you have enough food, hand sanitizer, things like that at home,” is crucial, she said.
Zink said people should make sure and have enough medicine on hand to last for two weeks to a month. She also said folks should start thinking about the possibility of other possible disruptions to daily life if the disease spreads.
“The other thing we ask you to do is think about what would happen if we had a significant outbreak,” she said.
Zink said there are currently no plans to close schools or cancel events. However, she said it’s wise for people to “think about what would happen if schools got closed or your work asked you to work from home.”
If someone has symptoms of the disease — which include coughing, runny nose and other cold-like symptoms — Zink said they should call their primary care provider before coming into the doctor’s office. That way, proper steps can be taken to ensure the disease is contained.
“Call them before you come in,” she said.
Zink said people should also think about upcoming travel plans and keep in mind overseas trips could mean prolonged delays due to possible quarantines.
The Anchorage School District recently cancelled all international travel through April due to coronavirus concerns and on Saturday President Trump announced additional travel restrictions to Iran, Italy and South Korea.
District Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth attended the town hall meeting and said the district is communicating daily with state and federal authorities. He said Dr. Deena Bishop is actively monitoring the situation and prepared to “make the hard decision” if needed. No schools have been closed due to the virus in Alaska, but schools have been closed in Oregon.
Zink also said people should make sure and get their flu shot in order to avoid stressing health care resources should a flu outbreak coincide with the spread of the novel coronavirus.
On Friday, the State of Alaska released a fact sheet advising Alaskans about how to prepare for the virus. Among the recommendations:
• Keep at least 6 feet from ill people who are coughing or sneezing
• Wash hands frequently and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol
• Avoid touching face, mouth, nose and eyes
• Routinely clean frequently touched objects
• If you feel ill, stay home for at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever without the use of medicines
• If you think you have the coronavirus, call your doctor before coming in
• Have an emergency preparedness kit
• Plan for the possibility of school dismissals and get to know your neighbors
• Identify a room in your home to separate ill people from those who are healthy
• If you do fall ill and live alone, keep in touch with friends and family by phone
The state is also recommending that businesses encourage sick employees to stay home and to prepare for high levels of absenteeism. Businesses can also help by cleaning routinely touched surfaces frequently, keeping soap and hand-sanitizer on hand and making plans for teleworking and possible supply chain disruptions.
For the latest information, Zink directed people to the State of Alaska website as well as the CDC’s website, which is updated daily with the latest information about the virus.
With the disease now thought to have spread from person to person within the United States, Zink said public health officials are now preparing to contain and slow the spread of the virus.
“The really important work that public health does is not going to be able to stop this virus but it’s going to slow it down as much as possible,” she said.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.