WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County Board of Legislators passed a resolution Tuesday night allowing the Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service to work at the county’s Canadian border and screen people for the novel coronavirus.
The action followed a public health presentation from Ginger Hall, Jefferson County’s Public Health director.
The resolution will allow TIERS to staff the border for the next two years, until Jan. 31, 2022, as a precaution for those coming to or leaving the United States.
“Our purpose last night was to update policy makers as to the extent of preparation already underway to respond, if required, to any detection in Jefferson County,” said County Administrator Robert Hagemann. “In addition to being prepared for anything that might occur in the county, we have a plan for coordination in place with our neighbors across the border, so we’re prepared to deal with it internally as well as prepared to respond to a situation that could potentially take place there.”
The TIERS screening consists of a form the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out to be administered to individuals. If those individuals meet certain travel criteria to high risk areas, CDC officers contact Public Health and if they don’t have anyone available, TIERS is the next closest to respond.
According to EMS Chief Michael Bennett, TIERS has partnered with Public Health several times in the past when there was need for screenings at the border, this is just the most recent instance where they’re needed.
“I think it’s very important to identify any persons of interest so we can have plans in place and decide what the best course of action is for the individuals,” he said.
There are already thousands of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in China, with additional cases being identified in a growing number of countries internationally, including the United States and Canada.
As of Tuesday, the CDC reported that there had been 14 diagnosed cases in the United States, with an additional 39 cases occurring among repatriated persons from high-risk settings, bringing the current total to 53 cases within the U.S. In Canada, 11 cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed as of Tuesday.
So far, no one has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in New York state, with one case still pending test results.
During her presentation, Mrs. Hall went over traveling restrictions and precautions for dealing with travelers coming from China and other high-risk areas, like monitoring individuals for 14-day periods.
“The current outbreak actually meets two criteria for a pandemic,” Mrs. Hall said. “We’re seeing more travel alerts for not only China, but additional countries.”
So far, what is encouraging is, according to Mrs. Hall, the virus that has hit in the U.S. is hitting people who traveled or are close to those who recently traveled to China; what we don’t have and what health officials are trying to prevent is the community spread of the virus from person to person.
Part of the TIERS screening at the border will consist of taking the temperature of those flagged as possibly being exposed to the virus. According to Mrs. Hall, officers cannot take a temperature or interpret it. Instead, it’s a requirement of the local health department to do that.
“We’ve partnered with them because they’re available 24/7 so we can activate them to go out and do these things,” she said. “We did this during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, so we work well together.”
Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have traveled to areas of concern, or have been in contact with somebody who has traveled to these areas, should call ahead to their health care provider before seeking treatment in person.
The only way to test for the novel coronavirus is through specialized testing at the CDC.
If a person has recently traveled to China and feels sick with fever, cough or trouble breathing, they should:
— Seek medical care right away by calling ahead and telling them about their recent travel and symptoms
— Avoid contact with others by staying home, with the exception of seeking medical care
— Avoid further travel until the illness resolves
— Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve, not hands, when coughing or sneezing
— Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or, if unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
The novel coronavirus may cause mild to severe respiratory symptoms like cough, fever, trouble breathing and pneumonia. The CDC believes at this time that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Most cases are now likely to be spread from person to person by droplets when coughing. Since this virus is very new, health authorities continue to carefully watch how the virus spreads.
“Hopefully we don’t have to respond, but it’s comforting to think we’re prepared in case we do have to,” Mr. Hagemann said.
Those who are concerned about the novel coronavirus and want more information are encouraged to contact the hotline specifically for the coronavirus at 1-888-364-3065.