HANCOCK — The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) requested a letter be sent home to parents regarding the coronavirus, in which health officer Cathryn Beer stated that the WUPHD understands the public’s concerns over the virus, and included a brief overview of the current situation.
“We understand that the Novel Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, is causing much anxiety in our community, country, and the world,” Beer said in the letter. “WUPHD is working to provide you with the most up-to-sate information on this rapidly evolving situation.”
The letter goes on to provide a list of what is known about the virus so far:
• The virus causing COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified and causes a respiratory illness ranging from a mild cold-like illness to severe pneumonia.
• Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 in China had mild disease, including most children.
• Similar to influenza, the people who are most likely to have severe disease and complications from COVID-19 are older individuals (over 60 years old) and those with other medical conditions like heart and lung disease, or diabetes.
• There is no vaccine or treatment currently available for COVID-19, but the National Institutes of Health is evaluating treatments and developing a vaccine already.
• Currently, there is NO confirmed community spread of COVID-19 in your county, meaning the virus is not being spread from person to person. However, experts predict there will eventually be some community spread. WUPHD is preparing for when/if this happens.
The letter also includes a list of instances in which the virus spreads:
• COVID-19 is believed to spread primarily the same way the common cold or flu spreads — through respiratory droplets that are produced when someone coughs or sneezes.
• People who are most at risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 are those who have been in close contact (within about six feet) with someone who has the disease.
• People are thought to be the most contagious when they show the symptoms (the sickest).
• Some spread of the virus might be possible before a person has symptoms; there have reports of this with COVID-19, but this not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
The letter then states what people can do now:
• Keep children home when they are sick.
Students (and parents/guardians) who are ill, especially with acute respiratory systems (not allergies or chronic conditions) should stay home.
• Teach your children to always cover their cough or sneezes with a tissue or an elbow.
• Remind them to wash their hands with soap and water (or use hand santizer) after they touch their face, use the restroom, and before they eat.
• Tell children to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth since that is how germs get into the body.
• Immunize children and family members to help avoid other seasonal respiratory illness.
• Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects (everyday household disinfectants are fine).
Enhance cleaning of high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, toilet handles, and sink handles.
• Plan for when community spread occurs.
Ensure you have a plan to designate a caregiver, such as a family member or neighbor, for sick children if you cannot stay home.
Know that your child’s school plan to communicate with you when needed, such as robocalls, email, or checking their website.
Beer also stated that because most people with COVID-19 have mild disease, the likelihood that WUPHD will recommend closing schools is very low, but not zero. In the unlikely event that WUPHD has to close a child’s school due to a COVID-19 outbreak, it is important for parents/guardians to have a plan for who could take care of the child.
“WUPHD will continue to monitor this evolving situation,” stated Beer. “We will provide additional information to the community as things change.”
In her letter, she also welcomes anyone with additional questions to contact their children’s school leadership, healthcare provider, or the Health Department.
Because of the high level of work and outreach facing the WUPHD, staff have not yet had time to establish a time with the Daily Mining Gazette for an interview, but the DMG will continue to publish information as it comes in.