A 3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, derived from a CDC released image. The cross-section shows the inner components of the virus.
Image: Scientific Animations/ Creative Commons

State and local health departments and healthcare providers remain vigilant and have a high state of readiness to protect New Yorkers from novel coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement yesterday afternoon.

There are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in New York State. As of yesterday, the state health department sent samples from 11 individuals to the Centers for Disease Control for testing, with seven found to be negative and four more still pending, the governor said.

Yesterday, the director-general of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. The State Department yesterday warned U.S. citizens against travel to China.

Also yesterday, the CDC confirmed the first case of person-to-person spread of novel coronavirus in the United States. A Chicago man contracted the virus from his wife, who was diagnosed with novel coronavirus after she returned from a trip to China.

The novel (new) coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, after a pneumonia outbreak there in December. Chinese authorities have since confirmed more than 9,700 cases and 213 deaths.

The virus has so far been confirmed in 21 other countries, including the United States, according to the CDC.

There are currently six confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States. They are located in Illinois, California, Arizona and Washington state.

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. CDC believes symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure.

Health officials are still working to understand what they called “a rapidly evolving situation,” in a CDC media teleconference yesterday.

CDC director Robert Redfield said “the full picture of how easy and how sustainable this virus can spread is unclear” but “based on what we know now, our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

Coronaviruses — named for the crown-like spikes on their surface — were first identified in the mid-1960s, according to the CDC. The new coronavirus is one of seven coronaviruses that can infect humans. Four of them are common. Two others have caused deadly outbreaks.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and spread to more than two dozen countries before it was contained. According to the World Health Organization, SARS sickened a total of 8,098 people worldwide during the 2003 outbreak. Of those, 774 died.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) causes severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. The first known cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in April 2012. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked through travel to, or residence in, countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. As of the end of November 2019, there was a total of 2,494 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS, including 858 associated deaths (case–fatality rate: 34.4%), according to the World Health Organization.

Cuomo said N.Y. officials are “taking every necessary precaution” to protect against the spread of novel corona virus into New York.

“I want to remind New Yorkers that it is much more likely that they will be exposed to the influenza virus than to the coronavirus,” Cuomo said yesterday. “I am urging New Yorkers to take basic precautions against the flu, such as regular hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. These measures will also help people avoid coming in contact with the novel coronavirus.”

The number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases and hospitalizations has increased in New York every week since flu season began in October, according to the state health department. Flu season occurs primarily from October through May and the 2019-20 season has yet to peak, the governor said.

Last week, 2,015 New Yorkers were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza, up 8% from the previous week. This season, there have been 11,539 flu-related hospitalizations. In addition, last week, 15,012 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were reported to the state health department, an 11% increase in cases from the week prior.

There have been a total of 72,385 lab-confirmed cases reported this season, with three flu-associated pediatric deaths.

Health officials urge everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine to help prevent contracting influenza. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza, including children under age 2, pregnant women and adults over age 65. People with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, are also at greater risk, as are individuals with weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use.

“As flu is considered widespread in New York State, taking everyday preventive steps such as washing hands often, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home when experiencing flu-like symptoms will help prevent the spread of the flu,” state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release issued by the governor yesterday. “These same actions will help protect New Yorkers against the novel coronavirus.”

While there is currently no vaccine for novel coronavirus, the same simple preventative measures for influenza can help stop the spread.

Last week the state health department issued guidance to healthcare providers, healthcare facilities, clinical laboratories, colleges and local health departments to provide updated information about the outbreak, and ensure the proper protocols are in place if a patient is experiencing symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus, had a travel history to Wuhan, China, or had come in contact with an individual who was under investigation for this novel coronavirus. Additionally, the state health department has hosted a series of informational webinars for hospitals, colleges and local healthcare providers.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.