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To fight coronavirus, Pennsylvanians should take flu precautions, officials say

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Travelers wear face masks as they walk outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. China reported Monday a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital. The outbreak coincides with the country's busiest travel period, as millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, in Pennsylvania, but the state Department of Health is monitoring residents who have recently returned from China, Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said at a news conference Wednesday.

The United States has 57 confirmed cases of the virus that has infected more than 81,000 people worldwide, Levine said.

"I would absolutely like to reassure Pennsylvanians that the Pennsylvania Department of Health, working with our county and municipal partners and other very important stakeholders, are prepared for any potential community spread of COVID-19," she said.

About 40 of the 57 cases in the United States are related to the Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak, Levine said.

Two York County residents, a couple from Warrington Township, were passengers on the ship when it was quarantined off the coast of Japan.

The couple are still under quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas but hope to come home next week if they test negative for the virus in their next screening.

Coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province.

State law prevents health officials from discussing the specifics of who is being monitored, how many people are being monitored and where they live, Levine said, in order to protect those individuals from being stigmatized in their communities.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf shows the document he signed declaring a state of emergency in the state's fight against heroin and opioid addiction during a news conference at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. In the background are Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, left, and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Richard D. Flinn Jr. Wolf signed an order for the 90-day disaster declaration, widening access to the state's prescription drug monitoring program and making it easier for medical professionals to get people into drug treatment more quickly. (Blaine T. Shahan/LNP via AP)

But if there is a confirmed case in the commonwealth, the Health Department will alert the public, she said.

Levine said COVID-19 appears to be more communicable and have a higher fatality rate than influenza but that Pennsylvania residents should take the same precautions they use to prevent other infectious diseases: washing their hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into elbows and, if ill, staying home from work and school to prevent infecting others.

If the virus does begin spreading in Pennsylvania, Levine said the state Health Department will need additional emergency funding to respond.

President Donald Trump scheduled a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at 6 p.m. Wednesday following a briefing with federal health officials.

Approximately 40 countries have confirmed cases of the virus, Levine said, and about 2,700 people have died.

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