The stock market continues to plunge as fear over spread of the coronavirus spikes. Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a new case of COVID-19 in California. The infected person had not traveled to China or been exposed to anyone who had. In a press conference, President Trump insisted the risk to Americans remains very low. But CDC officials say they expect COVID-19 to spread to more states across the U.S., and they’re preparing local health departments with specific guidelines for dealing with the disease. Wesley Willeford is the medical director of Disease Control with the Jefferson County Department of Health. He says they’re engaging with school and hospital officials to put plans in place.
Recommendations around Alabama schools and what would prompt them to close:
“At this point, we’re sort of in the preparation phase. We see that something could happen and we’re trying to make preparations to avoid the worst happening. Things that we’re really talking about right now is encouraging good hand hygiene, encouraging good surface cleaning, trying to avoid spread disease through touching surfaces and also coming up with plans for what would happen if students couldn’t be at school if you had to cancel classes.”
What are hospitals doing to prepare for the potential spread of this new disease?
“So here and certainly in Jefferson County, the Health Care Coalition, which Jefferson County Department Health coordinates with is making preparations to be able to handle patients if they were to come in with the disease. And that’s if they’re transported in from somewhere else or if it starts to occur in the community. So the big part of what they’re doing now is trying to make sure that their readiness status is where it needs to be, making sure they have everything that they need, making sure that they have plans in place for how to deal with patients. The one good part about this time that has existed between when this started and now, is that we’ve had time to make preparations, had time to be able to plan for these kind of not-so-good situations that could happen.”
Can Alabama hospitals handle the Corona virus on top of the flu season?
“This is one of my absolute favorite things. I’m really glad you asked me this. You know, for the flu season it’s bad. It’s not quite as bad as prior years, but certainly bad enough to cause concern. The most important thing that a person can do right now is get a flu vaccine. The reason we say that, it’s not going to do anything to prevent coronavirus, but the last thing we want is for a person to be ill with coronavirus and flu at the same time control what you can control that also helps to decrease the utilization of our health care system. And why that’s so important is because if we do see large numbers of coronavirus, we don’t want to over-stress our health care system with two things at once. So control what we can control.”
Does the state have adequate facilities to potentially house victims of the Coronavirus?
“One hundred percent. And that’s one thing that the Alabama Department of Public Health has been very good about doing, is understanding which hospitals are capable of handling these patients. And the good news is, is that most hospitals through their normal functioning are capable of handling this, that not every single hospital will meet that but the vast majority of hospitals do. And the biggest requirement is being able to have an airborne precaution room where it’s basically negative pressure, where air is pulled back into the room, preventing anything from leaving the room.”
Where are we on vaccine development?
“So, Dr. Anthony Fauci was speaking at the White House regarding this. And Dr. Fauci was expecting a one and a half to two month time frame before the very early trials will begin. And those are basically safety trials. There’s a second phase that comes into play that evaluates on a larger scale and finally, a third scale trial that would help to determine the vaccine truly is effective. All told, probably at minimum of a year before a vaccine is truly available for public consumption.”
Is that time frame soon enough?
“Well, that’s yet to be determined. We will have to see how the next couple of days in couple of weeks goes. You know, the question may end up being, if coronavirus does become established in our local area it will kind of determine on what happens with during the summer, where does the virus go? Does people need to be vaccinated just to eliminate it from from our society? So it’ll be a little hard to know just yet.”