Hawai‘i Health Department Prepares for 2019 Novel Coronavirus: Advising Against Travel to China

January 29, 2020, 12:08 PM HST · Updated January 29, 12:08 PM
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Coronavirus Travel Health Alert Notice for travelers from China. PC: CDC.

“Although the risk to the general public is low,” officials with the Hawai‘i Department of Health say they are working with state, county and federal partners to “actively prepare for possible cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).”

Last week, the DOH issued an alert to the medical community and provided information for healthcare providers.

Currently, there are no cases of 2019-nCoV identified in Hawai‘i.  As of Jan. 29, 2020, the CDC reports that the number of individuals who have tested positive in the US remains at five. States with confirmed cases in the US are: Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois.

Health officials say the cases involved people who traveled to Wuhan or other areas in China and say there is no evidence of person to person spread of the virus in the US.

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The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China and currently there are more than 6,000 cases confirmed in China and at least 17 countries. This includes 132 deaths in China.

“The Hawai‘i Department of Health is working closely with our emergency response network to put proactive measures in place to protect our residents and visitors,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. “Because Hawai‘i is a major travel destination, planning and preparing for possible outbreaks is an ongoing activity. The emergence of the 2019 coronavirus in Wuhan and its potential to spread to areas outside of China poses an increased threat to travelers and Hawai‘i residents and we’ve ramped up our efforts.”

“We are advising people not to travel to China at this time,” said Anderson. “Various areas in China have been placed under quarantine by the Chinese government, and travel within the country is either completely prohibited or significantly curtailed to prevent the spread of this disease.”

To date, the DOH has taken the following actions:

  • Issued a Medical Advisory on Jan. 21, 2020 to ensure healthcare providers are aware of the situation, understand response urgency to report potential cases to DOH immediately, conduct specimen collection and infection control measures;
  • Continually updating DOH website to provide information as it evolves: https://health.hawaii.gov/docd/advisories/novel-coronavirus-2019/
  • Monitoring respiratory disease surveillance system to ensure Hawai‘i is prepared should a person potentially exposed or infected with 2019-nCoV be identified;
  • Collaborating and frequently communicating with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other state health departments, and state public health partners (e.g., EMS/first responders, airport personnel, infection control partners) to closely monitor the situation nationally and internationally;
  • Working with healthcare facilities to ensure hospitals and healthcare providers are up to date on infection control recommendations and patient assessment in the event they encounter a person potentially infected with 2019-nCoV; and
  • Communicating regularly with travel partners, public and private, to ensure the latest CDC guidance and information is being shared with all relevant personnel.

Yesterday, the CDC reported that active airport screening of all incoming passengers from Wuhan, China is being expanded from five major US airports (SFO, LAX, JFK, ATL, and ORD) to all 20 US airports with CDC quarantine stations. The Daniel K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu is one of the 20 airports nationwide with a quarantine station under federal authority, specifically CDC and Customs and Border Protection.

People who have become sick after travel to China, particularly Hubei Province are advised to do the following:

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Stay home. Except for seeking medical care, avoid contact with others.
  • Do not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with clean soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

“We investigate all reports of persons with potential 2019 novel coronavirus infection to quickly identify persons with likely infection as well as those who may have been exposed to them,” said Dr. Sarah Park, State Epidemiologist. “Lab testing to confirm this infection is conducted at CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the only US laboratory that can conduct testing for the 2019 novel coronavirus at this time.”

DOH also recommends that everyone get vaccinated for influenza (“the flu”) to reduce the number of flu cases in Hawai‘i clinics and hospitals. This will help reduce confusion as persons with influenza will have signs and symptoms like 2019-nCoV. DOH strongly recommends that residents six months and older protect themselves against flu by receiving the seasonal influenza vaccination.

DOH has extensive protocols in place for infectious disease outbreak control and prevention activities. The department works with federal, state, county, private, and non-profit organizations statewide on preparedness activities and prevention measures continually, this includes exercises and drills with EMS, hospitals, HI-EMA, Medical Reserve Corps, law enforcement, and other partners.

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