This post has been updated.
About 71 people in Kentucky are self-monitoring for symptoms of the novel coronavirus after returning from trips to mainland China, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
There are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Kentucky. One healthcare worker was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus in another state, but was cleared after a 14-day monitoring period, said Doug Thoroughman, acting state epidemiologist.
“I think in Kentucky people should feel relatively safe right now. We don’t have any [novel] coronavirus in Kentucky and no threat of it we are aware of,” Thoroughman said.
Fourteen people in the United States have so far tested positive for the virus the World Health Organization has named COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus is a respiratory illness whose symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The CDC believes symptoms may appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Currently, 41 states and territories have a total of 427 people under investigation for showing symptoms or having traveled to specific places in China, according to the CDC. No one in Kentucky is currently considered to be under “investigation,” he said.
Kentucky has so far not prepared any quarantine sites, but is prepared to do so if necessary. In the meantime, Thoroughman said people should be more worried about contracting the flu.
“We’re at 49 deaths this flu season and over 15,000 cases of flu so that’s really what’s happening in Kentucky right now rather than the novel coronavirus,” he said.
The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness reported about 50 people in Jefferson County who are self-monitoring for the virus. People are also self-monitoring in Lexington, Northern Kentucky and several other counties.
Communicable disease epidemiologist Rui Zhao with Louisville’s health department equated local measures to preparing for a natural disaster.
“If we know a hurricane is going to hit an area, we don’t wait for the hurricane to show up before we starting putting up all the sandbags,” Zhao said.
Those under the 14-day self-monitoring period have signed an agreement with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that restricts movement. Once a day, they’re required to text, call or email their temperatures to monitor for signs of fever.
The monitoring period is not a quarantine, which is enforced through a court order, but violators could “theoretically” be put in jail for violating the terms of the agreement.
The presidential proclamation released January 31 limited who can enter the U.S. within 14 days of visiting China. If eligible travelers are not showing symptoms and are not from the Hubei province where the virus originated, they are allowed to travel to their home state.
“And that’s when it comes over to the state and local health departments to handle that,” Thoroughman said.
Those under monitoring include business people, university students and U.S. citizens who were travelling in China, he said.
The closest confirmed cases of the virus are in Illinois, where a man in his 60’s contracted the virus from his spouse. It was the first person to person spread of the virus in the U.S.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that 200 Georgia residents are quarantined in their homes after returning from trips to China. The Chicago Tribune has reported on an Indiana family who have voluntarily quarantined themselves after returning from China last month.
As of Thursday, the World Health Organization is reporting 45,171 cases of the virus, the vast majority of which are in China. Outside of China, 24 countries are reporting 441 cases and one death.
The CDC is conducting enhanced screening for people entering the country at certain airports while enhancing capacity at 20 ports of entry with CDC medical screening stations.
Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport is not engaging in enhanced screening measures because it’s not a primary port of entry, said Paul Kern, public health preparedness administrator.
Kern said the Louisville department of public health is meeting weekly to communicate news on the virus, and is talking with healthcare providers and the airport.
In Louisville, There is a disease outbreak support plan in place to manage any number of communicable diseases such as the Hepatitis A outbreak in 2018. The city also stores a fleet of 10 trailers stocked with supplies inside the Louisville Mega Cavern, including gloves, masks and surgical splash shields, he said.
“We’re always prepared to take on public health emergencies that occur within the metro area,” Kern said adding, “The best prevention is to wash your hands with soap and water.”
Both state and local health departments have fielded calls mistaking the virus for the common cold, which is also a coronavirus.