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As nation calls public health emergency concerning coronavirus, Massachusetts announces preperation measures



BOSTON (January 31, 2020) – Today, the Department of Public Health and Massport detailed ongoing steps being taken to ensure the Commonwealth is prepared to respond to the 2019 novel coronavirus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified Boston Logan International Airport as one of 20 additional airports that will have enhanced screening for passengers arriving from China, beginning in the coming days. To date, there have been no confirmed cases of 2019 novel coronavirus in Massachusetts and the risk to residents remains low.

The novel coronavirus has resulted in thousands of confirmed human infections in more than 20 countries, with more than 99 percent of cases in China. To date, six cases have been confirmed in the US, two individuals in California, two individuals in Illinois and one individual each in Washington State and Arizona. Again, to date there have been no confirmed cases in Massachusetts.

On Friday, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared the 2019 novel coronavirus a public health emergency and ordered any US citizens returning from the center of the outbreak in China to be quarantined for two weeks. This followed a declaration Thursday by the World Health Organization that the coronavirus outbreak is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Also that day the CDC reported the first case of person-to-person transmission in Illinois. Massachusetts state health officials, in conjunction with Massport and local health departments, have responded to prevent the spread of the virus.

Among the steps taken by the Department of Public Health:
Established an Incident Command Structure to facilitate the dissemination of information from federal and state partners to statewide stakeholders regularly.
Launched a new website that provides up-to-date information on the status of novel coronavirus for all residents:
Developed and disseminated clinical advisories to all Massachusetts health care providers and issued guidance to hospitals, health systems and Emergency Medical Services.
Scheduled calls with other key health care partners including local boards of health.

“Our priority is protecting public health as we work with our state and federal partners to provide the most up to date information and guidance to our residents,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “We understand that this new virus is causing public concern, but I want to reassure people that at this time, the risk to Massachusetts residents remains low.”

As announced earlier this week, the CDC was to begin enhanced screening of passengers who have traveled to Boston Logan International Airport from China. As part of its daily responsibilities, US Customs and Border Patrol conducts a passive screening for signs of illness of all passengers entering the US.

Logan was identified as one of 20 US airports where officials from the CDC will start to screen international passengers for symptoms and signs of novel coronavirus. This is in addition to the 5 airports where enhanced screening is already underway. Logan International Airport has three daily non-stop flights from China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Logan Airport does not have any flights originating in Wuhan, China or Hubei Province.

With the US government’s declaration Friday of a public health emergency, which includes limiting arrivals from China to just a handful of airports, starting Sunday, Feb. 2, the plans for Logan International Airport could change.

Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses and are generally spread through respiratory secretions (droplets from coughs and sneezes) of an infected person to another person. Symptoms of novel coronavirus include: fever, cough and shortness of breath, and in severe cases, pneumonia (fluid in the lungs). Information about how this novel coronavirus spreads is still limited.

Although the risk of the coronavirus to Massachusetts residents remains low, people are advised to take many of the same steps they do to help prevent colds and the flu, including:

Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
Cover coughs and sneezes.
Stay home when feeling sick.
Clinicians who see patients with recent travel in China, especially Hubei Province, who have a fever, lower respiratory tract symptoms (such as shortness of breath and cough), and/or contact with a known novel coronavirus patient, should contact DPH 24/7 at (617) 983-6800 for assistance. Further clinical guidance can be found in our Clinical Advisory.

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