FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear, joined by officials from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), discussed Thursday the state’s response efforts to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Beshear and other officials emphasized that there are no COVID-19 cases in the state and provided updates on the state’s testing, prevention, coordination, monitoring and scam awareness efforts.
“I want to reassure Kentuckians that we are still at low risk for exposure to the virus at this time,” Beshear said. “Every state without COVID-19 cases has been advised that this is highly likely to change. It is imperative that we be prepared. And that is why we want to keep the public aware of not only our new testing efforts, but the efforts that local public health professionals are making to protect Kentuckians.”
Beshear said that DPH began testing for COVID-19 at its state laboratory in Frankfort on Monday, March 2.
As of Thursday afternoon, Kentucky has tested, or is in the process of testing, seven individuals. Four tests have been negative and three are pending. All of these individuals were not at high risk and were tested out of an abundance of caution.
DPH has the ability to process results in a timely manner. Specimens received at the lab by noon each day will be resulted on the same day. Specimens received after noon will be resulted the following day. Currently, Kentuckians can seek testing by consulting with their health care provider.
Beshear said as with any virus, especially during the flu season, there are a number of steps Kentuckians should take to protect their health, including:
- Get a flu shot from your Local Health Department or your family health care provider.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Click here to watch videos on proper hand washing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then properly dispose of it.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Beshear said state officials are coordinating with local and federal officials and DPH is connecting with partner agencies like schools, childcare providers, emergency medical services, health care providers and local health departments through daily messaging. These communication efforts help to provide guidance for providers’ immediate response to local needs.
“Our State Health Operations Center, known as the ‘SHOC,’ is also operating to help mitigate concerns from our community of health providers,” Beshear said. “We are currently working at Level 2, and that means we have people working every day to coordinate our response to this situation. We have regular conference calls and are coordinating daily the interagency efforts to respond to this.”
“On a community scale, we are encouraging all facilities, businesses and schools to begin preparation activities for the spread of Coronavirus,” he continued. “If you are responsible for others, take active steps to prepare your plan to react and protect them.”
DPH is working closely with clinicians to make sure providers are aware of and informed about the illness. In addition, DPH wants to ensure providers there is a process in place through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to determine whether testing is warranted, including consulting with the CDC as needed.
Last week, Beshear urged Kentucky employers to offer paid sick leave amid virus concerns to help ensure Kentuckians are not coming to work if they feel sick.
CHFS Acting Secretary Eric Friedlander said state public health officials have been monitoring individuals who meet certain criteria and are also preparing for the probability of the virus spreading within the Commonwealth.
Dr. Steven Stack, Department of Public Health commissioner, said that the risk to the average Kentuckian is low, and public health experts are working to keep it low even as there will likely be more transmission of cases within the country.
“We cannot make predictions as to how many cases we could potentially experience in Kentucky,” he said. “We hope there are none, but we are prepared to see cases here based on surveillance from around the U.S. and other parts of the world. Given the nature of the virus and its ability to spread person-to-person, broader transmission will occur.”
DPH is monitoring people who might have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days by contacting each person and collecting travel and health history information and determining the risk level for COVID-2019 exposure. DPH has monitored 121 people in Kentucky, of those 10 are still being actively monitored. None of those are persons under investigation.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough or shortness of breath. Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have recently traveled to China, Iran and other countries currently affected by COVID-19, or have been in contact with someone who has traveled to affected areas should first contact their local health department. DPH officials said that exposed people should limit contact with others by staying at home, avoiding public gatherings like school or church and not taking public transportation.
Beshear also warned Kentuckians to be suspicious of scammers and con artists claiming to have a cure for the newest strain of the virus. Only legitimate medical authorities are working with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to create a vaccine for COVID-19. If, and when, a vaccine is approved, Kentuckians should ask their family doctor or government health officials for information on how to obtain a vaccine.
In the meantime, to avoid identity thieves, con artists and self-proclaimed experts, Kentuckians should:
- Watch out for products that claim to cure coronavirus or guarantee coronavirus prevention.
- Be wary of emails from con artists pretending to be the CDC or other public health organizations. A legitimate medical provider would never ask for sensitive information through email.
- Research organizations that are claiming to raise money for a coronavirus vaccine or to help victims.
COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and continues to expand to other countries. Chinese health officials have reported more than 80,300 COVID-19 infections in China, with the virus reportedly spreading from person-to-person in parts of that country. Infections with COVID-19, most of them associated with travel from Wuhan, also are being reported in a growing number of international locations, including the U.S.
As of 1 p.m. March 5, the CDC has reported 99 cases in the United States from 13 states and 10 deaths.
The current cases of infection in the U.S. are available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html. To date there have been nearly 3,000 deaths worldwide from the virus.