The Center for Disaster Medicine at New York Medical College, a member of the Touro College and University System, hosted a briefing about coronavirus on Friday, January 31. The rapidly spreading coronavirus is still a limited risk in the United States, but the situation could change quickly.
“The Center for Disaster Medicine focuses on precision responses to disasters and bioterrorism. Part of our mission is to react quickly to emerging issues as they arise,” said Dr. Alan Kadish, president of the Touro College and University System.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that were first detected in the 1960s. This type of virus causes the common cold as well as more severe respiratory viruses such as SARS. Millions of people are affected by coronaviruses every year, and almost all are not lethal.
This latest coronavirus was named 2019-nCoV, and was also called Wuhan coronavirus because the first infected people came from Wuhan City. Chinese health officials have temporarily named it Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia, or NCP.
“The current risk is low but that could change. Our guidelines will change over time as we learn more. It is important to stay vigilant,” said Dr. Robert Amler, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College.
The new strain of coronavirus had not been previously detected. It is believed to have been transmitted by bats to humans initially; however, it has adapted and can now be transmitted from human to human.
According to the World Health Organization, the new coronavirus is a respiratory virus, which spreads primarily through contact with an infected person through respiratory droplets generated when a person, for example, coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Symptoms of this coronavirus include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.
“No health crisis has generated more fear than this one. I firmly believe that the risk to New Yorkers is low and our level of preparedness is high,” said New York City Councilman Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Committee on Health.
Tips for Preventing Spread of Disease
Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler provided several steps for people concerned about this virus, and preventing the spread of illness in general.
- Get a flu shot. “This is a respiratory virus, similar to the flu. If you are protected from the flu, it will help us diagnose and treat you appropriately. It will also help avoid unnecessary testing.”
- Wash your hands and teach children how to wash theirs. “Use soap and scrub your hands for 30 seconds. The friction gets bacteria off of your hands. Hand sanitizers are better than nothing but not as effective as soap and water.”
- If you think you have been infected with this coronavirus, call ahead before arriving at the doctor’s office or hospital. This will allow the staff to take appropriate precautions.
- Stay home if you are sick.
Dr. Edward Halperin, chancellor and chief executive officer at New York Medical College, offered a broader perspective. “Infectious disease brings out the best in people and the worst in people. Be calm. Be thoughtful. Rely on what is known,” he said.