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Summit County Health Department Reviews The Facts On Coronavirus Outbreak

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Summit County
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The Summit County Board of Health Monday hosted a review and discussion of the world-wide coronavirus crisis.   

County Health Director Rich Bullough said it’s a situation that is constantly changing and health officials are still searching for answers.  

Bullough gave a presentation to the Health Board and an audience of about 20 people.  

Although the headlines refer to the current outbreak as “coronavirus”, he said that’s actually the name for a family of viruses, ranging from the common cold to a severe respiratory ailment like SARS.

“Obviously, this is a new coronavirus.   They now call it COVID-19.  That just stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019.”

He said the fatality rate for COVID-19 is reportedly about 1.4 percent —although that figure is uncertain because they’re still trying to survey how many people are infected.

Bullough said the outbreak is a constantly changing situation.    Late last week, the virus was reported in 48 countries.    Now it’s present in at least 65 to 69 nations.

He said there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.    Three possible vaccines are entering trials, and Bullough said it could be a year or so before a vaccine is mass-produced in this country.   In addition, the effectiveness of anti-viral medication is uncertain.

He said the potential public health threat from COVID-19 is high, both globally and in the United States.   And he said it’s naïve to think the Wasatch Back won’t be impacted.  However, for the general American populace at this time, the immediate health risk is considered low.

COVID-19 spreads, person to person, like the flu.

“It’s spread, like just about any virus, airborne droplets, sneezing, shaking hands.  If you’re in a space somewhere around six feet, roughly, there can be air droplets from a sneeze, or even from people breathing heavily or sniffling.  Gets on the hands.  It lives on surfaces, hard surfaces, up to on average about nine days roughly.  So this is a real deal.”

He said you should avoid close contact with those who are sick.    And if you are sick, stay home.

Summit County health officials said the onset of COVID-19 can be difficult to spot.    The symptoms are similar to the flu, and the onset of pneumonia isn’t rare.    Respiratory problems would be more of a red flag.   The virus can take up to two weeks to incubate.    And many of those with the virus don’t feel sick.

Bullough said the No. 1 precaution is, wash your hands.   And do it the right way.

“It takes about 20 seconds.   So, scrubbing your hands, going between your fingers, rinsing very well and drying thoroughly.  Takes about 20 seconds and it should be warm water—pretty much, as warm as you can stand it.    And if you can’t do that, or in between doing that, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer which is almost as effective.   It’s not quite as good, but it’s quite effective.”

The Health Director added, don’t touch your face.

They also highlighted the right and wrong ways to prevent contagion off surfaces.   County Nurse Carolyn Rose said gloves aren’t very effective.    The county said facemasks are intended for people with the disease to protect others.    If you’re healthy, there’s little evidence that wearing a mask will help you.

The Department also answered questions about what resources they have.   Bullough said they don’t have testing kits.   Testing is being done by the state, which launched its program on Tuesday.

Carolyn Rose said authorities won’t be testing everybody who just has the sniffles.     They will look at what level of symptoms a person has, and if they’ve been traveling out-of-state.

From the Park City Hospital, IHC Nurse Administrator Dan Davis said they’re running inventories on their resources.    He was asked about respirators at the Park City and Heber hospitals.        

“As far as on the Wasatch Back, Heber does not have an ICU.  So those patients would either go to Provo or Salt Lake, that has ventilators.   We have four brand-new ones and we have four that we’re gonna trade out.  But we’ll probably hold on trading those out with Park City til we see how this all falls out, in case one of our sister facilities needs more.”

Bullough said that COVID-19 may be a new virus, but the process to handle a major communcible disease isn’t new.   

And he said the Center For Disease Control is a strong organization facing a tough challenge.      

“You probably heard the press about how unprepared they are.  I don’t buy into that completely.  They’re understaffed.   They’re admittedly, even in their words, scrambling a little bit right now.  But CDC, these folks are experts.  And CDC remains one of the best public health organizations in the world.  And right now, they’re facing a huge challenge, no doubt about it.  But I still have confidence in em.  I think we all should." 

Health Director Rich Bullough who added that since the virus persists more in cold, dry conditions, the odds may improve in warmer weather.    But next winter, he said, expect the problem to peak again.   Updates are available at “summitcountyhealth.org/coronavirus.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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