State and York County officials convene, plan for coronavirus

Some commuters at Union Station adorn breathing masks in Los Angeles, Calif. on Jan. 31, 2020. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

State and local officials have begun talks about how an outbreak of coronavirus would be handled in York County.

Friday's conference call — which included officials from York County, York City, the state Department of Health and health care providers — came amid warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the coronavirus could reach pandemic levels.

Right now, York County is in a monitoring period, leaning on the city health bureau and the state Department of Health “to keep their ears and eyes on the situation as it develops,” said county spokesman Mark Walters.

“We’re trying to create a response structure so that when it develops, you don’t have to make 18 phone calls,” he said.

One step the county has taken is to create a database from which information can easily be shared among municipalities, school districts and the county.

Information would be reported through an online county messaging system so that if there was a risk in any municipality, officials could contact the corresponding school district, or vice versa if there were any reports of an outbreak in a school.

CDC officials announced a goal Friday to have every state and local health department testing for the virus by early March, CNN reported.

The World Health Organization on Friday upgraded the risk of the virus spreading to "very high."

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As of Sunday, there have been more than 88,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and at least 3,000 deaths across 50-plus countries, leading officials across the nation to ramp up efforts to prepare for outbreaks. 

There had been 70 cases  confirmed in the U.S. as of Sunday. Authorities said Saturday that a Washington State man in his 50s with underlying medical conditions had become the first person in the U.S. to die from coronavirus.

Medical workers in protective gear talk with a woman suspected of being ill with a coronavirus at a community health station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid spreading infection. (Chinatopix via AP)

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a news conference Wednesday that there were no confirmed cases in the state, but the department is monitoring those who recently returned from China.

In school districts, where infection could spread easily, officials are taking precautions such as extra hand sanitizers, updating emergency plans, preparing online materials or use of flexible instruction days or canceling student trips abroad.

In Dallastown Area School District, which has more than 6,000 students, officials are in the process of reviewing its pandemic plan, said Superintendent Joshua Doll.

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The challenge is preparing for an unknown, he said, because action would be based on circumstances at the time.

In the meantime, that district has been collaborating with local authorities, county commissioners, the county’s safety and emergency office and its local intermediate unit to coordinate plans.

Dallastown officials recently put a temporary hold on two student trips to Europe this summer, including one that was scheduled for Italy — which is at a Level 2 alert — in July.

In a letter released to parents and residents Friday, South Western Superintendent Jay Burkhart shared his district's plans in the event of an outbreak.

“Over this past week our school district has been involved in discussion about the evolving threat posed by the Coronavirus,” Burkhart wrote. “A topic I am sure that has not been lost on families.”

South Western will be disinfecting its classrooms and school buildings, giving special attention to places where diseases could easily fester, such as water fountains. 

Northeastern School District also released information Thursday evening on enhanced cleaning services to prep for coronavirus.

Walters encouraged residents to keep checking, the state Department of Health website, for the most up-to-date information on coronavirus and how to prevent it.