There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland, but Frederick Health Hospital is prepared for it if a case is reported locally.

The hospital is monitoring the 2019 novel coronavirus and is communicating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maryland Department of Health and Frederick County Health Department, spokeswoman Kelsey Shupe said in an email.

Physicians and staff were educated about the 2019-nCoV and given guidelines for how to care for patients suspected of having the coronavirus, Shupe said.

The hospital posted travel health alert signage at entrances, she said. They will also place surgical masks on patients who might have influenza or another respiratory illness. Hospital staff will also continue to frequently clean the hospital to prevent the spread of germs.

People should use good health practices, such as covering coughs and sneezes. Those not feeling well should stay home, Shupe said. If someone believes they might have the coronavirus, they should call their physician, urgent care or emergency department before arriving.

The Frederick County Health Department has also been monitoring the disease.

While there has been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Maryland, there are now 11 cases in the U.S. In China, there are more than 17,000 cases, according to the New York Times. All but one of the deaths have occurred in China.

Currently, the CDC has the lead on national coronavirus cases. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, which is part of the laboratory response network, is not directly involved in the response to the outbreak, spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said in an email.

“We are monitoring the situation and are working with interagency partners to ensure a coordinated, whole-of-government approach,” Vander Linden said. “CDC/[Health and Human Services] has the lead and USAMRIID stands ready to provide subject matter expertise if requested.”

Following an outbreak

To have an epidemic, there needs to be disease-causing material known as a pathogen, a host that can be infected and proximity to allow the pathogen to spread, said Mark Kortepeter, an epidemiology professor at University of Nebraska Medical Center and a former USAMRIID scientist.

Most diseases are zoonotic, which mostly infect animals, Kortepeter said. But pathogens can go from animal to human hosts because of proximity to animals. With more density and travel, diseases can spread across the world.

“So then suddenly something that happens overseas has meanings for us, the United States or things that happen in the United States have meanings or implications for other people elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Right now, the coronavirus is a moving target. It appears to have a 2 percent fatality rate, which is high for a disease. But it is still early on, which means the rate will probably decrease, Kortepeter said.

“It’s kind of like the tip of the iceberg,” Kortepeter said. “We see the tip of the iceberg first. And over time we learn about the rest of the iceberg hidden under the water of all the people with milder disease or, even just asymptomatic cases, such that the case fatality rate over time usually drops.”

The reproductive rate, or how many people a single person might infect, is around 2 to 4. That R0, called R-naught, is higher than the flu but lower than measles. But it is still early and the R0 can still change, he said.

People should be aware of coronavirus, but not afraid of it, he said.

“I say it’s a time for people to think back to the basic measures they would do for any time there’s a flu outbreak, like we’re seeing right now, is a good time to think about the basic public health practices, washing your hands, covering your coughs, you know, covering your sneeze,” he said.

Travel restrictions are in place, not unlike those seen during the Ebola outbreak in 2016, said Dr. Randall Culpepper, deputy health officer with the Frederick County Health Department.

President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency in response to the coronavirus. American citizens who were evacuated from China’s Hubei province were held for a 14-day quarantine at March Air Force Base, according to NPR.

Non-U.S. citizens will not be allowed into the United States if they have visited mainland China within the last 14 days, with some exemptions, according to a CDC press conference. U.S. citizens and people who fit the exemptions will be screened at one of 11 designated hospitals. The closest is Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

But even as measures are taken to handle coronavirus, Culpepper said it is important to keep the disease in perspective. The United States is experiencing flu season. In the most recent report from the Maryland Department of Health, there were more than 20,000 confirmed flu cases, with 20 deaths.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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