Health director: Be concerned, not panicked, by coronavirus

Published 7:52 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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If a person in Beaufort County tests positive for COVID-19, novel coronavirus, the public will be informed immediately.

“We would notify the public, as long as I could protect that person’s identity,” said Beaufort County Health Department Director Jim Madson.

In the wake of Gov. Roy Cooper declaring a state of emergency Tuesday in response to an uptick to seven coronavirus cases in the state, rumors were circulating that some Beaufort County schoolchildren were being tested for the virus. Madson said this was not the case, as the health department would be aware of any testing done.

Madson said the only coronavirus tests in the county — and there are a limited number — are at the health department, and a person can only be tested through two scenarios.

“For the health department to run a test, they have to be in confirmed contact with somebody that has coronavirus, or they have to have had a negative flu test,” Madson said.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus — fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties — must go to a medical provider and be tested for flu first. If the flu test comes back negative, then a coronavirus test may be administered. The sample is collected in Beaufort County, but is processed in Raleigh at the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health.

“They would take the sample for coronavirus, but they would instruct the patient to go home and wait for the test results. All their medical needs would be taken care of, no matter what,” Madson said. “We would track down all the people they came in contact with for three or four days before that, and notify all the people that they were in contact with, so they can monitor themselves.”

As the World Health Organization announced Wednesday that COVID-19 is now considered a pandemic, Madson said his office and the local EPI (epidemiological) team have been planning for novel coronavirus’ eventual arrival in Beaufort County.

“All the efforts that we’re talking about are all meant to slow the spread, so that the health care system will be able to provide service without being overwhelmed and overloaded,” Madson said.

Madson said his office is providing guidance on protocol to medical providers; at the EPI team’s next meeting, they’ll be discussing recommendations for businesses in response to the virus.

“All this is preparing for when it comes, if it comes. Or the warm weather it may kill it out — there’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “My concern is that it spreads so quickly in the community that the health care system would be overwhelmed, and my concern is for the elderly, and those with medical conditions.”

He encouraged elderly people and those with medical conditions — both groups have been consistently more susceptible to coronavirus — to stay home, avoid large crowds and avoid other sick people.

“If you feel like you might have it, call your provider so you can get treatment ASAP,” Madson said.

Madson said everyone, no matter their age, should follow standard protocol during flu season: wash hands well and often, cough or sneeze into an elbow or sleeve, and stay home if sick.

“That’s good advice for all respiratory diseases, not just COVID-19,” Madson said. “The concern is valid. Concern is important, but panicked is not right thing to be.”