On February 19, 2020

Coronavirus risk in Vermont continues to be low

The Vermont Department of Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor people who have returned from travel in China for symptoms of a novel coronavirus, now called COVID-19.

The monitoring effort is for people who have returned from China in the past 14 days and had no symptoms of respiratory illness.

There are no cases of illness from COVID-19 in Vermont. State health officials emphasized that, although the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, there has been no community-wide spread of the illness in the U.S. and the risk for Vermonters is low at this time.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, M.D. said the Health Department is in regular contact with federal health officials regarding any travelers who may be returning to Vermont.

“We have a multi-layered approach to protecting Vermonters’ health,” said Levine. “Once a person has been screened and cleared to continue their travel, if Vermont is their final destination, the Health Department is notified. Our epidemiology team then immediately reaches out to that person to assess their risk of exposure and determine what level of monitoring is indicated.”

Levine said that in many cases, those who have been screened when they returned to the U.S. are at low risk of developing illness and are able to go about their normal routine. However, if the assessment determines a person’s risk is higher, the department will ask them to restrict their activities until after 14 days from possible exposure.Health officials also check in with them regularly to learn whether they’re developing any symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19.

As of Feb. 13, nine individuals are being monitored by the Health Department.

Coronaviruses are common throughout the world and cause respiratory illnesses, including the common cold and seasonal flu. COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that can cause severe illness in people.

Like other respiratory diseases, COVID-19 is spread in the air by coughs or sneezes. Symptoms of illness can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days, or up to 14 days after exposure.

The Health Department activated its Health Operations Center earlier this month to coordinate the state’s preparations and response activities to detect the virus — and if it is found, to prevent illness from spreading and to make sure the person gets the medical care they need.

“We are working with the state’s health care providers, hospitals, universities, schools and communities, providing guidance and other supports,” said Levine. “We are well prepared to respond if someone in Vermont tests positive for this virus. This is the work of public health, and we do it every day … It’s important to remember that it’s people who get sick, not nationalities or ethnicities,” he continued. “Coronaviruses are circulating in every part of the world. Your risk for COVID-19 depends on your exposure to the virus. As with any public health threat, the virus is the enemy, not people.”

The Health Department encourages Vermonters to stay informed of the rapidly changing situation and watch for any changes in guidance and recommendations. Updated information and resources are available at healthvermont.gov and the department’s Facebook and Twitter sites.

Vermonters can also dial 2-1-1 for information.

Respiratory viruses are common right now, and flu is currently widespread in Vermont. To help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, get your flu shot and take these everyday actions:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

For more information, go to healthvermont.gov/covid-19.

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