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New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Sec. Kathyleen M. Kunkel and NMDOH Southwest Regional Public Health Division in Las Cruces penned a March 2 letter to community partners about the coronavirus. The letter was also sent to school nurses statewide and was posted on the Las Cruces Public Schools website. It reads as follows:
“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that have been associated with respiratory illness such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. At this time, respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to increase in other countries. Although a case of infection has not yet occurred in New Mexico, we understand that this situation is concerning to some students, parents and staff.
NMDOH takes this public health threat very seriously, and we have been working on developing New Mexico's response should cases be detected in our state. This includes helping communities and individuals understand the risk and prepare appropriately.
“It's important to convey to staff, clients, residents and program partners that risk is based on exposure. “Those at higher risk for being infected are:
• People who have traveled to a country with widespread infection (such as China or South Korea) within the last two weeks and have symptoms.
• People who had direct close contact with someone who was confirmed to have the novel coronavirus.
Like any other virus, no identity, community, ethnic or racial group in New Mexico is more at risk for getting or spreading COVID-19. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how cold viruses and influenza spread. To reduce the risk of infection, current guidance is to:
• Effectively train and encourage respiratory hygiene (cover nose and mouth when coughing/sneezing and keep hands from touching the face)
• Reinforce correct hand washing and to wash hands with soap and water (or use alcohol-based hand rub)
• Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or influenza-like symptoms – a distance of 6 feet is recommended
• Encourage staff, clients, residents and program partners to contact their medical provider if influenza-like symptoms develop
• Adhere to infection-control workplace policies
• Ensure regular cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces (doorknobs, handrails, etc.)
• Although it won't prevent COVID-19 infection, encourage getting the influenza shot if not already vaccinated. It will reduce influenza infections, preserving resources for caring for people with COVID-19 infection.
More information is available at www.cv.nmhealth.org and the NMDOH Epidemiology hotline, 505-827-0006.
Coronavirus: Multiple entities to monitor, respond to outbreak
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
“The risk of acquiring COVID-19 (coronavirus) here in Las Cruces is currently low,” said Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) assistant professor of physiology and pathology Michael Woods, PhD., who is director of BCOM’s BioSciences Research Laboratory. “Yet, the current situation reminds us of the need to remain vigilant in preventing the spread of respiratory illness, such as influenza, which is currently widespread in New Mexico.”
The City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County, New Mexico State University and Las Cruces Public Schools, among other institutions and agencies, are being vigilant in their approach to the coronavirus.
“The City of Las Cruces takes seriously the health and well-being of our residents, visitors, and staff,” said city Quality of Life Director Lynn Gallagher, Ph.D. “There are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-9 in our community. As with any public health situation, we will take all appropriate steps necessary to ensure the safety and health of our community. We do this with accurate and timely information and through coordination with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH), and through federal and county partners who are tasked with leading efforts.
“We further remind everyone to wash their hands frequently, stay home when sick, and report any activity with the affected region or a person suspected of being ill with the appropriate authorities,” Gallagher said.
Doña Ana County Department of Health Director Jamie Michael said the county is disseminating information from NMDOH to residents and staff about the virus.
“NMDOH has the resources and responsibility to coordinate statewide, and it is important to be consistent with their information, Michael said. “The county is utilizing our outreach and promotion staff, as well as the community resource centers, to support the dissemination of information across the county.”
Coincidentally, just two weeks ago, an NMSU College of Health and Social Services Public Health Services Department undergraduate class “discussed the strategy of health risk communications in a crisis using a case study,” said department head and professor Satya Rao, Ph.D.
Like the county, Rao said her department is relying on NMDOH for guidance and for information to provide to colleagues, staff and students.
“One of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses is frequent handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds,” said BCOM’s Woods. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent ethanol are a suitable substitute. If you have a fever, stay home from school or work and reach out to your primary-care physician. Anyone considering travel to an affected region in the coming weeks, such as Italy or China, should refer to the CDC’s guidance for travelers.
“There is a lot we do not yet know about SARS-CoV-2, which makes it difficult to predict the course of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Woods said. “The appearance of community-acquired infection in places like Washington and California indicates that there are individuals carrying the virus who have not yet been identified. As the screening capacity increases, we will get a better handle on the true burden of disease here in the U.S. Furthermore, we do not yet know whether the change in seasons will be associated with a decrease in transmission potential, like we see with seasonal influenza.
“For most people,” Woods said,” COVID-19 is a relatively mild disease, and some people may even be asymptomatic, meaning that despite being infected, they may not ever feel ill. Based on data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those who are most at risk for severe complications are those aged 70 years and older, or those with underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension or cancer. Early data indicates that children are not severely affected by COVID-19; among 44,672 cases in China only one in 50 were 20 years old or younger,” Woods said.
The name coronavirus comes from the virus’ crown-like shape.