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UPMC: Facilities Are Ready To Handle Coronavirus

There have been no known cases of the COVID-19 virus at any UPMC medical facility, though officials with the Pittsburgh-based health organization with a hospital in Jamestown said procedures are in place to handle potential patients.

UPMC and Allegheny County, Pa., officials held a press conference Tuesday to discuss preparations for the coronavirus. Though no cases have been confirmed in Pennsylvania, two in the New York City area have been confirmed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Right now, we do not have any known cases in Pennsylvania or the communities that UPMC serves,” said Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer. “If that changes, we have been putting measures in place since early January to quickly respond. We have always had solid plans to care for emerging diseases.”

Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of the UPMC Department of Emergency Medicine, said the chances of the coronavirus popping up in western Pennsylvania were “exceptionally high.”

“The question is how many will be here,” Yealy said. “We are well-positioned with our procedures to handle that real well.”

UPMC Chautauqua P-J file photo

Yealy said UPMC began preparations for the coronavirus in January by contacting health officials on the local, state and federal level where UPMC has facilities including Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. He said emergency department employees — considered “the front lines” in local communities — have been trained in how to handle potential patients.

“We have had screening guidelines in place in all UPMC locations since early January to help us determine anyone (who may have the virus),” he said. “We have trained our staff what to do next in encountering the infection.”

More than 90,000 people have been sickened worldwide and more than 3,000 have died from the virus, which first showed up in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. The number of countries hit by the virus has reached at least 70.

The illness is characterized by fever and coughing and, in serious cases, shortness of breath or pneumonia.

Yealy said officials remain in contact with various health departments, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to update screenings and testing procedures.

“We stand ready to care for patients,” he said.

Minnier said COVID-19 is “very similar” to the flu, which she described as a very serious annual virus that sends thousands of people to local hospitals. However, Minnier said the coronavirus is different from the flu in that it is evolving from its outbreak to across the globe.

Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, said the FDA recently announced they are expanding permission for COVID-19 diagnostics to qualified labs nationally. “We are working quickly to develop our own testing capabilities so that any cases can be identified more rapidly,” he said.

Snyder said the best way to prepare for the virus is to wash hands with soap and water and to cover all coughs or sneezes. He cautioned against use of facemasks, which he said are not effective against the virus.

“We started ahead of the curve,” Snyder said. “We have had screening guidelines in place for nearly two months. There are no cases at UPMC presently, but we are ready should we have a case. … We are working quick to develop our own testing.”

SECOND CONFIRMED CASE IN NY

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that a man from New York City’s suburbs was hospitalized in serious condition with the COVID-19 virus, the second person to test positive in the state.

Cuomo said the 50-year-old lawyer from New Rochelle had no known travel history to countries where the outbreak of the new coronavirus has been sustained, though he had been recently to Miami.

“You’re going to see a continued spreading,” the governor said. “That spreading is inevitable.”

The man, who commuted to work in Manhattan and lives in a home with school-age children, had an underlying respiratory illness that potentially put him in more danger from the disease, Cuomo said.

A 39-year-old health care worker who traveled to Iran became the first confirmed case of the virus in New York on Sunday. Officials said the woman has respiratory symptoms, but they are mild.

Cuomo also said two families in Buffalo that traveled to northern Italy are under quarantine in their homes as they await the results of testing samples from the state health department’s Wadsworth Public Health Laboratory in Albany.

On Monday, Cuomo signed a bill to direct $40 million from the state’s general fund to help the state hire more staffers and buy equipment to help respond to coronavirus as the outbreak spreads and testing ramps up.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said he supports the state funding but was one of four votes against the legislation in the state Senate because it expands the governor’s powers too much.

“As is often the case in Albany, this egregious power grab was strategically tied to $40 million in funding for coronavirus preparations,” Borrello said. “While I fully supported the funding appropriation, I could not support handing the governor the power to act unilaterally during any event he deems an ’emergency.’ The bill would have given him sweeping and sole authority to suspend and alter any state or local law or rule and issue directives. It unnecessarily added language to allow the Governor to declare a wide spectrum of events as ‘disasters’ – even blight — giving him ultimate authority. During my time as County Executive, we had several crises arise that required quick action by our legislature to approve emergency appropriations. Those occasions were never used as opportunities to expand the power of the executive and diminish the role of lawmakers. Had I attempted such a move, my colleagues would have voted “no” and rightly so. Many of my fellow legislators in both the Senate and Assembly, from both sides of the aisle, expressed serious concerns with the overreach in this bill. That is why I could not, in good conscious, vote in favor of this measure.”

State University of New York schools plan to send home students who are studying abroad in countries with high prevalence of novel coronavirus, according to the governor’s office. SUNY officials are also reviewing all study abroad programs in case the federal government expands travel restrictions.

JPS MONITORING DEVELOPMENTS

The Jamestown Public Schools District on Tuesday issued a statement regarding the coronavirus.

“Please be assured that Jamestown Public Schools is closely monitoring daily developments regarding the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Like all New York school districts, Jamestown Public Schools relies on guidance from state and federal agencies, including the Chautauqua County Department of Health & Human Services, the New York State Department of Health, and the national Centers for Disease Control when addressing evolving public health issues like coronavirus,” Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said.

“Though we do not have any diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Jamestown Public Schools, or in Chautauqua County, we are closely following the guidance these agencies are providing and will continue to do so.”

The superintendent issued the following recommendations:

¯ wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Heavily soiled hands should be washed;

¯ 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, then throw the tissue in the trash;

¯ clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces;

¯ stay up to date on vaccinations, including influenza.

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