City, state leaders preparing for possible virus outbreak

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he will release a plan next week on steps Massachusetts is taking to prepare for a possible outbreak of a new virus spreading around the world.

Baker told reporters that since the beginning of the month there have been daily conversations among the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments about the COVID-19. The Republican said he's also been calls for governors with the CDC and the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

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He said the federal government has already taken steps to screen those arriving in the U.S. from affected regions.

“I would expect that by the beginning of next week we’ll probably have a fully formulated plan that we can show people," Baker said. “But again I would point out that here in Massachusetts, based on the data and the information and the guidance that we’ve received so far, this remains a low threat.”

Soon after, the Baker Administration said there is no “plan” coming out next week and that they have been continuously evolving based on information released by teh CDC.

He also said the state has been helping monitor people in self-quarantine in their homes to see if they showed symptoms of the virus. Of the 608 who were under self-quarantine, 377 have already completed their monitoring and have been released without symptoms.

The monitoring typically extends over a 14-day period during. If there are no symptoms after that period, the individual is determined to be in the clear.

There has been a single case of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The man, who is in his 20s and a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, had traveled to Wuhan, China, and sought medical care soon after his return.

“That patient is doing well and continues to recover in self-quarantine,” Bharel told reporters. COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

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Baker was also asked about what steps, if any, the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon, should be considering since the race draws runners from around the globe. Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon say it will be limited to elite runners and wheelchair athletes because of concerns of the virus.

Baker said his guess is that the association would talk to federal authorities and others about the right way to deal with concerns — but also that the organization has some time to make a decision.

Federal health officials have said the new virus, which emerged in December in Wuhan, China, has sickened at least 60 people in the United States. A total of more than 81,000 cases around the world — mainly in China — have been reported and killed 2,700 globally.

In Boston, city officials held a preparedness meeting to discuss the “what ifs” should the deadly virus spread through the city.

“We’re preparing for scenarios where we have a health emergency that we need to think about our public facilities and our workforce. We are preparing for them all, again, however, it’s important to note that’s not where we’re at today," said Marty Martinez, Health and Human Services.

There are 34 people in Boston being watched for possible coronavirus, including the one man with a confirmed case. None have symptoms.

With the Boston Marathon only two months away, organizers say there are no major changes at this point.

Passengers out of Logan Airport say anxiety is affecting their travel plans - and airlines agree it’s been tough for them too. Airlines like Jet Blue have started waiving cancelation fees for passengers unsure whether they should fly and put themselves at risk.

“That would be great if we could contain it but it seems likely it’s spreading,” said Tom McKeown, of Westwood.

McKeown said the anxiety over the threat of a coronavirus spread has already began impacting his day-to-day.

“I do travel internationally for work and a lot of the events planned are most likely going to get postponed at this point so I think you’ll see a lot of that, a lot of tradeshows, conferences, business meetings [being delayed],” said McKeown.

This week, however, one conference that wasn’t postponed was the PAX East. Fears of coronavirus spreading prompted Sony to drop out of the convention, a move that shocked event-goers and gamers worldwide.

Uber drivers in the area say they too are prepared to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Whoever comes in my car I give them sanitizer so they can clean their hands,” said Blanca Barrantes, of Norwood. “Especially now that there’s a convention in Boston I said I’m not going to pick up anybody from the airport.”

The anxiety of contracting the virus goes far beyond just the thought of getting sick - many are questioning whether they’d be able to afford getting tested and treated.

“I think if something does happen it will highlight how bad the healthcare system is in this country though, I think it will be a real litmus test,” said Conor Keenan, of Jamaica Plain.

Others say they trust the healthcare system in Massachusetts and are hoping state leaders will be able to prepare.

“I would like to think we are ready, I think we are lucky living in Massachusetts, we have very good doctors and hospitals and nurses so I would like to think we would be prepared for that, I hope we get all the funding we need,” said Sarah Moore-Ede, a nurse.

A doctor at Northeastern tells Boston 25 News there are a lot of reasons to be anxious, including concern about the supply chain. That being said, at this point, the best course of action is to have businesses, hospitals, schools and local governments prepare for the outbreak.

There is hope of a vaccine, according to scientists in Israel. They say they’ll have a vaccine ready in a few weeks that could go public in three months.