It’s been about two months since the virus was first identified in China. As of Friday, nearly 84,000 cases have been recorded, according to a data tracking map from John Hopkins University. So far, there have been more than 2,800 deaths, and most cases have been in China.
There have been 60 confirmed cases in the United States, with no confirmed deaths.
East Tennessee State University College of Public Health Dean Randy Wykoff said this is a time for people to be “cautious and observant,” adding that there’s “very little value in public panic.”
“For the moment, folks should be cautious as they would during flu season anyway. As you know, in the average year, we have 35,000 deaths in the United States from influenza,” he said, adding that people should wash their hands, stay home if they feel sick and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.
“Typically, viruses like the coronavirus spread primarily by coughing or sneezing, so air droplets, but also to some extent, living on surfaces.”
The previously unidentified coronavirus strain is part of a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, its primary symptoms are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually arise between two to 14 days after exposure.
“People need to be tested if they have symptoms because the symptoms can be variable,” Wykoff said.
Wykoff said the health care community is alert and learning as much as they can about the disease, its patterns and how it spreads.
“What we know today is going to be different than what we will know in six weeks,” Wykoff said. “You have to gather information over time. The more we learn about this particular virus, the more we will know about specific advice to give to people.
“I think most people expect there to be a continued spread of this virus, and the numbers will probably go up as more people are tested,” he continued. “You can never clearly predict the future, but the general thought is we should be prepared for the appearance and more cases of the virus.”
Wykoff said health care professionals and researchers identify and learn about emerging pathogens faster than they were able to decades ago.
“I think the fact that we know about it reflects that we’re improving our ability to identify emerging diseases,” he said.
“I remember in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, it looked like the incubation period was about four years because those were the first ones appearing.”
On Friday, a Johnson City Press reporter reached out to the Washington County Health Department and was directed to state health officials.
While there is still a lot to learn about the virus, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Tennessee is prepared for the virus that, at this point, seems to spread much like the flu.
“There are also some things that we don’t know for sure right now, such as if the virus can be spread by people without symptoms, or how long the virus can remain on nonliving surfaces like doorknobs and bathroom faucets,” Piercey’s statement read.
The department plans to issue a statewide advisory promptly if the virus reaches Tennessee. As of Friday, there were no reported cases in Tennessee.
“Fear, panic and misinformation can be just as dangerous as an outbreak itself,” the statement warned.