The Provincetown Health Department and Board of Health take public health emergency preparedness and response very seriously. Now that the Town has an Emergency Management Coordinator, staff from both Departments are working together to better integrate and plan for all types of emergencies, including public health events. What follows is a brief overview of the status of COVID-19 in the United States, and the Department’s preparation for a public health emergency response.
COVID-19 is a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses and are generally spread through respiratory secretions (droplets from coughs and sneezes) of an infected person to another person. The following is from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH):
Although the risk to residents of Massachusetts is low, many of the things you do to help prevent colds and the flu can help protect you against other respiratory viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you are sick.
There are currently no vaccines available to protect against this novel coronavirus infection.
While person-to-person spread among close contacts has been detected with this virus, at this time this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.
The novel coronavirus has resulted in thousands of confirmed human infections, primarily in China, with a small proportion of cases resulting in death. Other countries, including the United States, have identified a small but growing number of cases in people who have traveled to China.
Symptoms of this infection include:
- cough and shortness of breath, and
- in severe cases, pneumonia (fluid in the lungs).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of February 21, 2020, the latest COVID-19 confirmed cases in the United States are 14 total cases (2 cases spread from person-to-person) out of 414 people tested.
Interim guidance for travelers from China states that asymptomatic returning travelers shall self-monitor with intermittent public health supervision and social distancing. Symptomatic returning travelers shall practice isolation and work with the public health personnel on a plan for seeking medical attention prior to seeking medical attention.
While COVID-19 is a global concern, in Provincetown as well as Massachusetts as a whole, flu presents a much more certain public health issue. According to DPH, the 2019-2020 flu season has been categorized as a very high severity level and between 4,000 – 5,000 Massachusetts residents have been hospitalized with flu. The state has experienced one influenza-associated pediatric death, and nationwide the number is at 105. The most recent DPH weekly flu report states that all influenza strains that have been characterized in Massachusetts this season to date are covered by the current influenza vaccine. The Provincetown Health Department continues to advocate for flu preparation and works with community partners to organize clinics in the community whenever requested.
The Provincetown Health Department has a public health emergency plan based on a CDC template that is updated yearly with guidance from a public health nurse planner from Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment. Additionally, Health Department staff are well versed in epidemiological investigations and follow up. Staff have been trained in specific epidemiological guidelines pertaining to the current COVID-19 outbreak, as well, and DPH has extended its interpreter contracts with local Departments of Health should we need them for COVID-19 response.
DPH is posting updates on COVID-19 on Twitter. Interested parties may wish to follow @MassDPH and @CDCgov for more up to date information.