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Area Health Agencies Say They Are Prepared To Handle Respiratory Illnesses

Scott Harvey

There have been only five confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus in the U.S. to date, and none of those was in Missouri.  But the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and other local organizations say they’re prepared should the virus show up in the area.

Kendra Findley, administrator of Community Health and Epidemiology for the health department, said how they’re addressing the novel Coronavirus is no different than how they handle the flu each year.

"We work with our healthcare partners to deal with the control of respiratory viruses and the identification of cases and how we can minimize the spread of person-to-person respiratory illness," she said.  "So, I do feel like the health department at the local, state and national level is prepared to deal with the spread of a respiratory virus as is our healthcare system here in the local area."

Area hospitals are taking steps to watch for any signs of the novel Coronavirus.  Sonya Kullmann, spokeswoman for Mercy Springfield, said when patients check into their doctors, their electronic health record prompts the front desk staff to ask about their travel history and symptoms of a communicable disease.  "If they have traveled to China and have symptoms like fever, cough, etc., the system prompts staff to immediately mask and isolate the patient," Kullmann said.  In that situation, the health system's highly infectious disease protocol would kick in and co-workers would put on personal protective equipment, per CDC guidelines, and start caring for the patient, she said.

Kaitlynn McConnell, spokeswoman for CoxHealth, said they're screening patients "at all points of the system" for the novel Coronavirus.  She said, while they're actively monitoring the virus, they believe the Ozarks is at low risk for the illness.  But she said a team made up of members from various departments, including Infection Prevention and Emergency Management, is meeting regularly "to discuss the situation and what, if any, protocols should be enacted if the disease presents in the Ozarks."

Findley said they’ve been in contact with international students who might have traveled to Wuhan, China where the virus originated over the long winter break.  But the incubation period is over, according to Findley, and none of them exhibited symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk for the novel Coronavirus to be low in the U.S., said Findley.

She hopes area residents continue to take precautions to protect themselves from influenza—an illness that’s on the increase in Greene County.  She said they should get a flu vaccine and wash their hands often.  And those who are sick should cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and stay home.

There were 165 reported cases two weeks ago in Greene County, and that jumped to 301 cases last week, according to Findley.  As of January 18, there had been 16 flu-related deaths in Missouri and 1,970 lab-confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of  Health and Senior Services officials said they're working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the novel Coronovirus and to keep Missourians informed.  There has been one patient under investigation in Missouri, according to MDHSS, and they tested negative for the Coronavirus.

State health officials said local and state public health agencies are working in partnership with health care providers throughout the state "to ensure that those that need testing receive it."  You should seek medical care if you've been in Wuhan the past two weeks and you develop a fever or cough or have difficulty breathing.  Those who meet that criteria are asked to call ahead before going to the doctor or emergency room and let them know they were in Wuhan and about any symptoms.


Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.