State health officials say coronavirus risk in Mass. is low

State health officials say the risk of coronavirus in Massachusetts remains low, but as the rest of the world watches the outbreak quickly spread, local hospitals are preparing ?disaster response teams? should they be needed to help contain and study the issue.

BOSTON — Health officials are watching a potential second case of coronavirus in the United States, this time in Texas, two days after a man in Washington state was confirmed to have been carrying the virus. State health officials say the risk in Massachusetts remains low, but as the rest of the world watches the outbreak quickly spread, local hospitals are preparing “disaster response teams” should they be needed to help contain and study the issue.

“Every year we have a couple of deployments from MGH,” said Dr. Louise Ivers, Director of MGH Center for Global Health and response team member. "I’ve responded to disasters in Haiti both earthquakes in Haiti and major cholera epidemic.”

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With over 500 coronavirus cases worldwide and 17 people dead in China, Ivers said the hardest part of responding to a situation like this is "often in a very serious emergency coordinating the responding actors can be the hardest part so we always take our lead from the authorities on the ground.”

She says right now in China, similar groups are taking care of patients and trying to make sure healthcare workers are protected.

As local experts watch and wait for a possible call, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is leading the charge for much of the response, including airports.

“I think the most important thing for us is to stay at the hip of our colleagues at the federal level so we are completely informed on what they know,” said Baker.

On Wednesday night, a flight from Hong Kong to Boston was met with emergency response. Several people were screened as a precaution but officials say everything is OK. Baker says there are currently no plans to screen Logan passengers coming from China and that those screenings are happening at airport hubs in the US, including New York, Atlanta, and Chicago.

“I do think making a decision to have certain airports where people coming from those places in China would be sort of funneled into, is the right way to handle it here,” said Baker.

Should coronavirus surface locally, nurses and doctors are ready. Since Ebola’s comeback five years ago, MGH built two special rooms to treat patients with that virus. There are another 10 isolation rooms for airborne infections like coronavirus, and one in the emergency department for both. Aside from the rooms, certain staff are specially trained in safely putting on and taking off equipment after caring for patients.

“We do special training with our staff to make sure they are able to safely put on and, more importantly, safely take off this equipment after caring for patients,” said Eileen Searle, MGH Biothreats Clinical Operations.

The viral illness has prompted Chinese authorities to effectively shut down at least three cities. The World Health Organization met Thursday and decided to not yet declare a global health emergency.

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