Here’s what you should know about the coronavirus in Kentucky
By Emma Austin and Ben Tobin
Louisville Courier Journal
After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global health emergency on Thursday, the White House followed suit Friday, declaring it a health emergency in the U.S. amid efforts to limit its spread.
The U.S. has 11 confirmed cases of the virus to date. Six of the U.S. cases are in California, two in Illinois, one in Arizona, one in Washington state, and one in Massachusetts.
No cases have been reported in Kentucky.
But a Louisville-based company told its employees to not travel to and from the country earlier this week.
Papa John’s International, which operates 209 franchise-owned stores in China, is “encouraging all corporate team members who regularly travel to China to halt travel there until further notice,” spokeswoman Lindsay English told The Courier Journal.
English added that Papa John’s employees who live and work in China are “advised to not travel within the country or abroad.”
She said three stores in the Hubei Province, where Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak is, are closed, but did not know whether it was due to the outbreak.
Papa John’s joins businesses and institutions across the nation that are taking safety precautions in response to the pneumonia-like virus, which has killed more than 360 people in China. More than 170 cases have been confirmed in more than 20 other countries.
And as of Friday University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University have suspended travel to China following the U.S. Department of State’s highest level travel warning on the country due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, U.S. health officials and the Center for Disease Control issued a federal quarantine order for 195 Americans evacuated from China to remain at an air base in California for 14 days.
What are other Kentucky businesses doing?
Like Papa John’s, other Kentucky businesses with connections to China are paying close attention to the outbreak.
Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, is “closely monitoring the situation and providing regular travel updates to our employees and franchisees,” a spokesperson said in an email. Yum Brands said it is separate from Yum China, an independent company that operates nearly 9,000 restaurants in the country.
“Per our normal protocols, Yum! is following the U.S. State Department guidelines regarding travel to China and other areas affected by the coronavirus, and we are also aligning with direction provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the company added.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak has not impacted the operations of Louisville’s largest employer in China.
UPS, which has more than 200 weekly flights to and from Chinese business centers, has “not received any reports of affected employees,” according to regional UPS spokesman Jim Mayer.
The company is “providing our employees working in China with tips on how to help prevent contracting infectious diseases, and what to do should they exhibit any symptoms,” Mayer told The Courier Journal. “Those tips, which are applicable to any communicable disease including the flu, include washing hands frequently and avoiding large crowds.”
Mayer added that UPS does not operate flights into Wuhan, where the coronavirus started, or any city within 300 miles of Wuhan.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for the new infection, according to the CDC. There also is not a vaccination, though drugmakers are racing to create one.
China’s National Health Commission says it appears the virus can be spread before the carrier shows symptoms. The CDC believes symptoms could appear two to 14 days after exposure.
What happens if it reaches Kentucky?
The Kentucky Department for Public Health confirmed Kentucky has no cases of coronavirus and no suspected cases.
The department sent an advisory to clinicians statewide last week to provide guidance on what to look for and what to do if they think they have a possible case. It also planned a webinar to update doctors and local health departments on the outbreak.
Dr. James Frazier, vice president of medical affairs for Norton Healthcare, said in a statement it’s possible additional screening or travel-related questions may be added to hospitals’ admission processes based on how the situation evolves.
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Is Louisville’s airport screening for coronavirus?
Louisville Regional Airport Authority spokeswoman Natalie Chaudoin said because Louisville’s international airport doesn’t have any nonstop international flights, screening for the virus does not occur in Louisville, but rather at the first airport where an international traveler arrives.
Who should get tested for coronavirus?
If a person develops a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days after travel from Wuhan or has been in contact with someone showing the symptoms who has recently traveled from the area, they should call a health care provider and mention the recent travel.
The virus is believed to have originally emerged from an animal source, but the CDC has reported it now seems to be spreading by person-to-person contact, though it’s not clear how easily that can happen. There are no documented cases of transmission within the U.S.
Dave Langdon, spokesman for the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness, said people should keep in mind coronavirus itself is relatively common; people may have been told in the past they had coronavirus, but it would not have been the new strain.
How can you protect yourself?
The CDC recommends travelers avoid “nonessential travel” to Hubei Province, China, including Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified.
And as it’s flu and respiratory disease season, the CDC also recommends getting vaccinated and taking steps to prevent the spread of viruses, including washing hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
“While novel coronavirus is a concern, we urge everyone to realize that the flu can be serious as well,” Frazier said. “People with underlying conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes and COPD should always call their physician if they have a fever and symptoms that are not controlled with current medications.”
Are students studying abroad safe?
Though the immediate risk to the American public is still believed to be low, and Kentucky has no reported cases, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University all suspended student travel to China, following the U.S. Department of State’s highest level travel warning on the country due to the coronavirus outbreak.
University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton said there are no UK students registered as being in China, though “large numbers” of students and faculty will travel to and from the country throughout the year.
UK students received an email last week with information about the virus and what to do if they recently traveled to Wuhan and have developed symptoms.
WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said three students are in China for the university’s Chinese Flagship study abroad program but will be returning, and a student scheduled to travel to the country in February will not go.
U of L Provost Beth Boehm said in an email sent to the campus Wednesday that there is no record of students, faculty or staff traveling to central China in the past 14 days, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the length of time it could take for symptoms to develop.