CHCC: No coronavirus cases on Saipan

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AS of Sunday, there was no case of novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV on Saipan, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. said.

Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation personnel wear face masks in the hospital hallway.  Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

Also on Sunday, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres met with officials of the Commonwealth Ports Authority, the Marianas Visitors Authority, the CNMI Division of Customs, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to discuss the ongoing surveillance of coronavirus, which has caused a public health emergency in China.

CHCC, for its part, assured community members that they will be notified immediately “if there is a case of significance within the CNMI.”

“We continue to advise all island residents to maintain healthy hygienic practices and wash your hands to avoid leaving germs in areas commonly used by family members or the public,” CHCC stated.

Another cause for concern is the spread of rumors that can cause unnecessary panic among residents, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said on Sunday.

In an interview on Friday, CHCC-Immunization Program manager Jeremy Sasamoto said he was “in a meeting when I received a message from [a] staff [member] — she heard that a hospital worker saw Asian patients showing symptoms of 2019-nCoV and that they were doing laboratory work on them.”

He learned that the Asian patients who went to the Family Care Clinic were wearing face masks.

“Next thing I knew, everyone was wearing masks — even the hospital workers. It all went out on Facebook.”

But he said nobody was “in isolation” at the hospital and the “news” on social media was fake.

CHCC said five patients were treated at the hospital on Friday morning — they were exhibiting symptoms of 2019-nCoV, and had recently traveled to an affected area.

“However, these patients’ illnesses were confirmed to be the flu, not 2019-nCoV,” CHCC added.

On the same day, CHCC-Public Health Emergency Preparedness or PHEP issued a memorandum to all healthcare workers and hospital staff.

“To avoid causing panic with our staff and community, N-95 masks should only be worn by staff who are in direct contact or close proximity to suspected individuals,” the memorandum issued by PHEP director Warren Villagomez stated.

The memorandum also reminded health workers to immediately give a face mask to an individual with suspected signs of coronavirus; to inform the unit or program manager regarding the individual’s arrival at a designated isolation area; and to escort a suspected individual to the identified isolation area.

To members of community, CHCC said medical protective masks “are not needed to be worn when entering the [hospital]. We will certainly alert the public if any precautions such as this needs to be taken by the staff or the general public.”

CHCC also reminds individuals to seek medical care immediately if they have traveled to Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, or any of the affected areas, or have been in close contact with an infected individual from any of these areas, and feel sick with fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing.

CHCC said there are now indications that 2019-nCoV, like the flu, may be spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.

For more information, contact the CHCC PHEP surveillance unit at 234-8950.

Proactive steps

The CNMI government is taking proactive steps in dealing with the outbreak of coronavirus in China, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said.

The government also aims to prevent rumors from spreading and causing unnecessary panic among the public, he added.

“We are going to do our very best to prepare for the coronavirus as a U.S. jurisdiction, and at the same time, working with federal and local law enforcement agencies, and business partners to make sure that our residents here stay safe,” Bautista said.

The administration, he added, will also work with the airlines in ensuring “that we have a protocol in place.”

He advises residents to confirm first if a rumor circulating on Facebook or Whatsapp is true.

In a statement on Sunday, the administration said the World Health Organization is not considering the outbreak in China to be a global public health emergency, but the CNMI has already taken active measures to be prepared.

“When the news broke of the coronavirus, the CNMI increased locally driven airport surveillance protocol in which we observe and identify suspected travelers from China and the Asia region, and implement follow-up questionnaires and mitigate any transmission on island. Contrary to rumors, we do not have any cases of coronavirus in the CNMI,” the governor said. “The CNMI is the first place in the Pacific to implement this approach, which is accomplished in partnership with CHCC, Customs, and CBP.”

According to the administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already confirmed two cases in the United States: first in Seattle and second in Chicago. The WHO and CDC continue to monitor the outbreak and will continue to assist state and territorial health agencies around the country, the administration added.

“CHCC has been working hand-in-hand with CPA, Customs, and US CBP in screening travelers to assess potential signs and symptoms before leaving the plane. As we continue to receive information from the WHO and CDC, we will make a formal determination with our tourism and airline partners on all flights from the Asia region,” the administration stated.

“Public health is our number one priority now, and CHCC and our first responders have confirmed that they are prepared and continue to strengthen response plans. This is not a moment for panic or alarm. It is a moment for being vigilant and to continue following proper hygiene for yourselves and your families,” Gov. Torres said.

CNMI residents can prevent the spread of this type of illness with good hygiene practices:

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Avoid contact with sick people, and stay home or seek medical attention if you are not feeling well.

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