La. prepares for coronavirus amid latest CDC warning, urges public not to panic

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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The coronavirus remains on the move and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says besides China, it has spread to 31 other countries and territories including the United States and that has the Louisiana Department of Health getting prepared just in case the virus hits the state.

In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, file photo, a sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. | Source: AP Photo / David Goldman

Dr. Joseph Kanter is Assistant State Health Officer at LDH. He said so far Louisiana has no confirmed cases of the virus that has proved its ability to kill.

"There's a lot of preparation on the state and the local side,” said Kanter.

However, Kanter said LDH gets almost daily calls from medical professionals in the state who are concerned that a patient may have been exposed to the virus.

"And thankfully none of those cases so far have even risen to the level of warranting testing,” said Kanter. "We work with them to discuss the case and if it meets the bar to become a patient under investigation and get tested we coordinate to send that sample up to the CDC. In time, our state lab will be doing those tests, but the CDC is not ready to send those tests out just yet."

There are close to 60 cases in the United States and worldwide the number of coronavirus cases is 81,000 with about 3,000 known deaths associated with it. China has been hit the hardest by the virus.

Dr. David Mushatt, an infectious disease specialist at Tulane is an expert in COVID-19, or the coronavirus.

"It’s a new virus, we don’t know as much about it and so we tend to fear the unknown more than the known,” he said.

He said tests are needed to confirm it because the symptoms are similar to those caused by other viruses.

"Coronavirus is like most respiratory viruses, the one you're most familiar with is influenza, they're all very transmissible between people, it's either through the air if somebody coughs you have these little droplets that can get onto someone else's nose or mouths,” said Mushatt.

He agrees that not a lot of immunity has been built up in society against the virus.

"Maybe different enough that the body doesn’t have good immunity against this newer strain of the coronavirus,” said Mushatt.

Still, he said there are things people can do to try to protect themselves.

"Number one, wash your hands regularly if you’re out in public, or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, encourage people to cough into their sleeve or use a tissue,” he said.

Kanter said when travelers come back from China to the U.S., they are sent to a handful of U.S. airports to be screened by the CDC.

"If they’re low-risk and only if they’re low-risk are they allowed to carry on to their final destination, so some of those folks have come through MSY and they’re instructed to limit their contact with others and stay at home and monitor themselves for 14 days and we work closely with them,” said Kanter.

Kanter and Mushatt urge the public not to panic. They said people in Louisiana should be focused on getting their flu shots because influenza has already hit the state.

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