Our Turn: What you should know about the coronavirus outbreak

  • Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, announces the state’s first case of the new COVID-19 virus on Monday in Concord. Chan was joined at the news conference by members of the state’s congressional delegation and the governor. From left: Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Rep. Annie Kuster, Rep. Chris Pappas and Gov. Chris Sununu. AP

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is an evolving situation, and there is much that scientists and doctors still need to learn about this new virus. But we also know it can be hard to sort through all the information – and misinformation – so we wanted to share a few of the top things that public health professionals believe all Granite Staters should know about this issue.

It is important to know that state health officials are in constant communication with federal counterparts. The New Hampshire Division of Public Health is working around the clock to ensure that New Hampshire remains on top of this developing situation.

The single best thing you can do to keep yourself and your family healthy is to follow typical flu prevention steps. That means first and foremost, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and make sure to get every part of your hands, including your fingertips. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. And avoid close contact with individuals who are sick. Frequently clean commonly-used surfaces and devices such as your phone and computer with disinfecting wipes.

Before traveling outside the country, you should consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel guidance at cdc.gov.

The CDC issues three levels of travel warnings, with the highest level (Level 3) instructing to avoid all non-essential travel to a destination. The CDC currently has Level 3 travel warnings for four countries (China, Iran, Italy and South Korea), and on March 4, the CDC issued updated guidance warning individuals traveling from those four countries to self-quarantine at home for 14 days after returning to the United States. If you experience cold or flu-like symptoms, immediately call your doctor or local emergency department and provide them with relevant travel history information. (But please call; do not go directly into the doctor’s office or hospital.)

If your symptoms persist or your doctor suspects that you may have the coronavirus, you should reach out to New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services by calling 603-271-4496. After hours, you can call 603-271-5300.

Public health experts advise that sick individuals should stay home from work or school. Unfortunately, we understand that this can be difficult or impossible for some individuals. In the long run, this will require legislative action, and in the short run, we are urging employers to make accommodations for any sick workers.

You should also know that there is strong bipartisan cooperation at the state and federal level to address this issue, and on Monday, the five of us participated in a joint briefing with state health officials about the state’s response efforts.

This past week, members of both parties in the Senate and House passed an emergency funding package to ensure that state and local workers on the front lines of this crisis have the resources and support they need. The emergency funding bill provides $8.3 billion for the national effort to respond to the coronavirus and will direct resources to New Hampshire, including an initial $4.9 million to support state response efforts.

This bill gives federal, state and local governments, as well as health care professionals, more resources to detect and respond to this outbreak. The funding can be used for masks, protective equipment and other medical supplies to distribute to state and local hospitals. It also provides funding to reimburse states for expenses stemming from coronavirus response efforts.

In addition, the scientific community will receive robust funding to conduct research on potential coronavirus vaccines and treatment. And while our first priority is protecting health and safety, the coronavirus outbreak is also having an economic impact in the United States and around the world, which is why this bill includes support for affected small businesses.

Protecting the health and safety of the American people is not a partisan issue. We are pleased that Congress came together swiftly to deliver more resources and support, and we will continue working across party lines as this crisis evolves to ensure effective coordination across all levels of government.

While you should not be unduly alarmed, it is important to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously, and if you have any additional questions, visit cdc.gov or dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/2019-ncov.htm for live updates from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

(Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen represent New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate; Chris Sununu is governor of New Hampshire; and Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.)




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