Basic hygiene key in fighting respiratory illness, including COVID-19

Bulletin photo

Members of Johnson County’s emergency response teams will meet on March 13 to discuss crisis operations plans should COVID-19 be found in Wyoming. Right now, hospital staff stress that the best measure is good hand-washing hygiene.

COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, has dominated the international conversation since an outbreak in China earlier this year, and it’s hard to watch the news of its spread without fear and trepidation.

But, although the virus is concerning and precautions should be taken, it is important to remember that, statistically, the chances of contracting and dying from the COVID-19 are much smaller than contracting and dying from seasonal influenza, according to Laurie Hansen, the Johnson County Healthcare Center’s director of administration.

“As of yesterday (Feb. 25), there were 81,000 cases of coronavirus and 2,761 deaths, according to the World Health Organization,” Hansen said. “But, with influenza, there were 29 million cases worldwide and 16,000 deaths. What’s happening is that people are talking about the coronavirus constantly, so that has kind of inflated people’s fears about it. I’m not going to say it isn’t a concern, but it is certainly no more of a concern than influenza or any of the other respiratory illnesses we see each year.”

COVID-19 was first reported in China on Dec. 31, 2019. Since then, over 89,000 cases have been diagnosed worldwide. More than 100 cases have been diagnosed in the United States, with no reported cases in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Healthcare center CEO Sean McCallister said that, while his infection prevention staff is keeping an eye on the epidemic, they are currently maintaining normal infection control practices.

“Our infection preventionist is saying we’re going to do what we always do, which is really good infection control practices,” McCallister said. “And that’s kind of where we’re at right now. I think it’s just a good even-keeled approach where she keeps an eye every day on the latest news and how it’s evolving.”

Johnson County Emergency Management coordinator Marilyn Connolly said there will be a meeting on March 13 to discuss crisis operations plans – including operating without full staff – if the virus is found in Wyoming.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization, are fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. About 80% of those infected recover from the disease without needing special treatment. About one out of every six people who contract COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. About 2% of people who contracted the disease have died.

As the threat of an international COVID-19 epidemic looms, Johnson County residents can take comfort in knowing that they are in the best possible place they can be, McCallister said

“I think it’s good we’re in Buffalo, Wyoming,” McCallister said. “It’s a small town, and it’s isolated, so it’s a really good place to be right now.”

There are still precautions that you and your family can take in light of the epidemic, McCallister said, and sometimes the simplest answers are the most effective.

“A lot of people and places are out buying masks, but really that’s not the key,” McCallister said. “This is not about masks. It’s about everyday hygiene and hand hygiene, in particular.”

Hansen agreed.

“The World Health Organization does say that the most important thing you can do is handwashing,” Hansen said. “Wash your hands wherever you go. Before you eat, after you eat, before and after you go to the bathroom. And if somebody is coughing, don’t be afraid to ask them to cough in their elbow, which will reduce the spread of germs.”

Stephen Dow covers a variety of beats for the Buffalo Bulletin including the Johnson County Commissioners and JCSD #1. Stephen is a Billings native who joined the Bulletin in 2016.

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