Coronavirus is a low risk for United States

Panel: Coronavirus risk low in U.S.  UC Irvine scientists say there is no reason to panic, and warn of misinformation

By Alicia Robinson | arobinson@scng.com @ARobWriter on Twitter

While researchers continue to gather information on the new coronavirus, most Americans are at relatively low risk of infection, UC Irvine scientists and health specialists emphasized during a panel discussion Monday night to calm concerns and share accurate information.

The vast majority of cases of what’s officially known as 2019 novel coronavirus have been in China, and most people diagnosed outside China had recently traveled there, said Matthew Zahn, the Orange County Health Care Agency’s medical director of communicable disease control, who participated along with seven faculty members in the panel hosted by UCI.

About 120 people attended.

“The short answer really is unless you have recent travel history to Hubei province in China, the risk to U.S. residents here is very low at the moment,” said Sanghyuk Shin, who directs UCI’s Infectious Disease Science Initiative.

UCI Student Health Center Medical Director Albert Chang was among the panelists Monday night speaking about the new coronavirus. PHOTO BY BILL ALKOFER

As of Monday, 28 countries have reported cases of the new coronavirus, and six U.S. states including California, Arizona and Washington had confirmed cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State public health officials said six Californians have tested positive for the virus, including one case each in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

As more is learned about the new coronavirus — a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past — research is also finding the fatality rate appears to be around 1%, as compared with the 8% death rate during the 2003 SARS outbreak, UCI public health professor Andrew Noymer said.

Panelists at Monday’s seminar said rumors and misinformation have been widespread, including among the school’s own population.

Since the Orange County case went public Jan. 25, “the questions started coming right away,” UCI Student Health Center Medical Director Albert Chang said.

Social media posts falsely indicated a UCI student was ill and isolated on campus. Officials said there has been no case reported connected to UCI. Some students have skipped classes out of concern, and a petition was started to shut down the campus.

“In the beginning of this, we put boxes of masks out and they just disappeared,” Chang said. “People were grabbing them by the handful.”

Students have told UCI officials about discrimination against people of Asian descent, even though ethnic background is unrelated to coronavirus risk, Shin said, “One of the ways to sort of combat fear is to be equipped with good knowledge,” Shin said.

The university has created an online clearinghouse for information, the student health center’s medical director recorded a podcast on the issue, and faculty experts put together Monday’s public talk, all in the hope of stemming the flood of misinformation about the illness.

Li Zhang, who joined UCI last summer to teach in the global and international studies program, said she and her husband responded to the event invite as soon as they got it because many of her students from China have been anxious and lacking in information, and she wanted to be able to answer their concerns.

Computer science students Albert Le and Elizabeth Wen said they came to get the facts, not because they were worried about getting sick.

“I think it’s good to be informed,” Le said.

As winter wanes and warm weather comes, the likelihood of a large outbreak in the U.S. will dwindle, because respiratory infections are less likely to spread during summer in temperate climates like ours, Noymer said.

Officials with UCI and the Orange County Health Care Agency agree on several tips for those who are worried about the virus:

• Get a flu shot. There’s not yet a vaccine for the new coronavirus, but the CDC estimates that since October, more than 22 million Americans have gotten a flu-related illness and at least 12,000 deaths are attributed to it.

• Wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom, before eating and if you’re coughing or sneezing.

• If you’re sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home from work or school; avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• If you have questions or concerns, go to an authoritative source, such as the CDC, the World Health Organization or the Orange County Health Care Agency.

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  • To Country: United States
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  • Posted On: 2/11/2020 9:21:20 AM
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  • Last Modified On: 2/11/2020 9:21:20 AM
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