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Kent County Prepared for Coronavirus

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A man walk in the business street on FEb. 13, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Flights, trains and public transport including buses, subway and ferry services have been closed for 22 days. The number of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China climbed to 1368. (Stringer/Getty Images/TNS)

By Mason Glanville

Though no cases have been identified in Michigan, coronavirus is on the minds of Kent County residents. As it stands, 60,414 people have contracted the disease and 1,370 have died. Only 15 of these cases have occurred in the U.S., and none of those cases have been fatal.

Nevertheless, in the case of Grand Rapids Community College student Sandy Tran, 24, of Kentwood, fear has hit close to home. Tran’s father recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, and his local workplace demanded that he get tested for coronavirus, even though local hospitals are not capable of conducting testing yet. 

Tran says she is not worried, though, because “It doesn’t seem that dangerous” for those of us in Grand Rapids. She is probably right. 

According to Kent County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Dr. Karla Black, the county and all of its allied health services work hard to prepare for a widespread epidemic of any disease. Spectrum Health, West Michigan’s largest health conglomerate, also released a statement that they are prepared to encounter patients with the new disease.

Dr. Black says that at this point in the progression of the coronavirus, people should be more afraid of the seasonal flu. If using regular precautions and staying sanitary, the people of West Michigan do not need to be afraid of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Like the flu, coronavirus is spread from person to person by droplets of an infected person’s body fluids. Coughing and sneezing are enough to introduce the virus to a new host. Like Dr. Black, Spectrum Health recommends that “We should wash our hands frequently, avoid touching our eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid being near people who are sick.” Frequent hand washing is a piece of advice that reverberates with health professionals everywhere, and if people practice hygiene in this way, they protect themselves from a host of diseases.

If someone enters west Michigan with coronavirus, “We aren’t going to be getting more cases from them,” Dr. Black said. Current cases in the U.S. have all been successfully isolated because hospitals and airports are all using the many systems put in place to halt progression of the disease.

At the national level, all travelers from China are being received through only seven major airports where immediate coronavirus screening takes place. And at local hospitals, if anybody has a recent history of travel to China, or had reasonably suspicious exposure to a potential coronavirus patient, the person will be isolated and thorough testing will take place. 

In the event that a mass outbreak like this did occur in our own backyard, Dr. Black says that we are prepared. While we won’t emulate China and construct entirely new hospitals in a matter of days, she says “we have a number of things in our back pocket.”

Some plans include activating predetermined “alternate treatment centers” should our hospitals fill up. 

But no matter what happens, your parents’ advice will always apply: wash your hands!