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Louisville Prepares as CDC Warns Of Spread Of Coronavirus In U.S.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Louisville health officials continue to monitor the temperatures of international travelers for signs of the novel coronavirus as federal health officials warn that community outbreaks could lead to the closures of businesses, schools and public gatherings.

In Louisville, about 50 people have signed agreements with the state to self-monitor for the virus after travel to mainland China, or, as the result of showing clinical symptoms, said Rui Zhao, communicable disease epidemiologist for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

The World Health Organization confirmed more than 80,000 cases of the virus in 34 countries on Tuesday. There are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Louisville, but the CDC has called the spread of the virus, known as COVID-19, a “serious public health threat.”

“The world is much smaller today than it was 10 or 20 years ago and what’s happening around the world could impact your health and we want to bring awareness to that so people aren’t caught off-guard by it,” Zhao said.

Still, Zhao said the risk remains lower in Kentucky than in other states because of a lack of direct international air travel with the affected countries.

About two weeks ago the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reported 71 people in Kentucky are self-monitoring for symptoms of the novel coronavirus after returning from trips to mainland China.

Right now, travelers from mainland China are subject to health monitoring and possible 14-day quarantines, according U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After receiving a screening at a port of entry, cleared travelers are allowed to continue to their destination. The CDC passes their names along to state and local health departments for monitoring.

Those under the 14-day self-monitoring period have signed an agreement with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that restricts movement. Once a day, they’re required to text, call or email their temperatures to monitor for signs of fever. Violators could be put in jail for violating the terms of the agreement.

The CDC has issued travel guidance for other countries where the virus is spreading including South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy. But as of Wednesday, the CDC has not enforced the same level of screening as it has for mainland China.

The city doesn’t currently have the capacity to test for the virus, but Zhao said that would not hamper the department’s response.

Louisville health officials are providing regular updates to healthcare providers, correcting misinformation and updating people about best measures to prevent the spread of the virus, he said.

Zhao encouraged people to take personal responsibility to “break the chain of transmission” by taking everyday precautions: washing hands, covering coughs, and staying home when feeling ill.

“These are all things we hear about regardless of what illness is in the news or not. We would do this for flu, we did this for SARS, we would do this for any number of respiratory issues that would be in our community,” Zhao said.

Local Impacts

Louisville officials have begun conversations about potential impacts to schools and the Kentucky Derby, but immediate plans are unclear.

Zhao noted that school closures happen every year in Kentucky to due to the flu, although widespread disruptions to everyday life are less common.

Jefferson County Public Schools is advising anyone who has traveled to China and has experienced symptoms of respiratory illness in the last two weeks to stay out of school. Spokeswoman Renee Murphy said JCPS is communicating with health officials, and quoted the CDC as saying the immediate health risk is low.

A spokeswoman for Louisville Tourism said they’ve seen only one conference impacted by the virus so far. A Chinese delegation canceled ahead of the VEX Robotics Competition in April, but a domestic team was able to take their place, said Stacey Yates.

As for the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Tourism had not heard of any hotel cancellations as of Wednesday, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Derby Festival said they're monitoring developments, but so far events will continue as scheduled.

The CEO for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said in a statement there is the potential for the virus to impact the state’s economy, but did not mention any specific toll on the state.

“Many of our key industries including technology, health care and manufacturing rely heavily on China and other Asian nations being affected by the virus,” said Ashli Watts.

Both GE Appliances and Toyota Manufacturing Kentucky told WFPL News that they have not yet seen any impacts that would affect their ability to serve customers.

A spokesman for Louisville’s UPS air hub said last week the company is taking precautions to protect pilots and limit potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.

This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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