DPH Statement on Novel Coronavirus Activities from Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, MD, MS

With recent cases of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) reported in several countries including the U.S., health officials across the nation are increasing monitoring efforts to identify potential cases. The Division of Public Health (DPH) has posted information on its website https://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph and is issuing this statement to provide details about activities related to the outbreak.

While the available information suggests a low immediate health risk for the general public, we consider any new infectious disease a serious concern and are working with health care providers such as yourselves to promptly identify and evaluate any suspected cases. It is important to recognize that the current investigation and response are dynamic, and new information about the disease may impact the approach to this disease.  DPH will keep you updated as the situation evolves.

Currently the risk to the general public is considered low. At this time, there are a small number of individual cases in the U.S.  Risk is based on exposure. As you know we are in the heart of flu and respiratory disease season, and with over two thousand cases statewide, most of the population is at greater risk of contracting seasonal influenza than coronavirus. Those individuals with recent travel to any area of China, or contact with someone who has recent travel and is ill, have an increased risk for becoming ill. DPH is not recommending exclusion from work/school of asymptomatic persons arriving from China.

Delaware has a strong disease surveillance system in place that includes partnerships with hospital and clinic systems as well as local health care providers such as you. We continue to ask providers to alert us if a person with recent travel to any area of China, becomes sick with respiratory symptoms. If this is the case, we ask that you contact the DPH Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at 1-888-295-5156.  When cases are reported, laboratory samples are collected and submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmatory testing. This testing can take several days.

We have had a handful of calls from providers and have followed up.  If at any point testing confirms a case of novel Coronavirus in a Delaware resident, the available details and protective recommendations would be shared with both the affected parties and the public as quickly as possible.

Symptoms are most similar to lower respiratory infections with patients having fever, cough, and shortness of breath. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses. There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for 2019-nCoV infection. People infected with 2019-nCoV should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

The public is being encouraged to call ahead to their health care provider if they are concerned about the possibility of having been infected with 2019-nCoV.  Patients arriving for evaluation should be asked to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified and be evaluated in a private room (three walls and a door) with the door closed, ideally an airborne infection isolation room if available. Patients being sent to another health care facility from their primary care provider, or urgent care center, should be masked to limit transmission of respiratory secretions. Health care personnel entering the room should use standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and use eye protection (e.g., goggles or a face shield). See the CDC’s health care personnel checklist or hospital personnel checklist for more specific information. Immediately notify DPH at 1-888-295-5156.

Additionally, DPH has issued guidance to Emergency Medical Services responders regarding what to do if they are called to transport someone suspected to be infected with 2019-nCoV.  DPH is holding frequent internal calls to ensure a constant flow of communication, and we are developing materials such as flyers to help the public understand what this virus is, and what they can do to protect themselves. We ask that you post the attached flyers around your facilities to educate patients on the virus and prevention techniques.

When a new disease is circulating, it’s natural for people to ask what they can do to protect themselves and their families. The best guidance at this point is to advise patients to take the same precautions recommended for avoiding colds and flu: People should stay home when they are sick, cover their cough and practice good hand washing. Patients who have recently returned from a trip to China and are feeling sick, should call their health care provider and let them know of their travel and symptoms.