Local health officials report that residents are at minimal risk of contracting coronavirus


Local health officials are reporting to residents that there is a ‘low’ immediate health risk from a new virus that began in China.

The virus the local health officers and departments are referencing is coronavirus, a virus that has origins stem from Wuhan, China.

This ‘novel’ coronavirus (2019-nCOV) is a respiratory infection and can cause ‘pneumonia like’ illness in people, according to health officials.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading national public health institute of the United States, those symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long 14 days after exposure.

The virus has reached more than 20 countries since it was first detected in December.

However, health officers from the municipalities of Montgomery Township, Hopewell Township and Princeton as well as Middlesex County reiterated that the immediate health risk to residents is minimal.

Montgomery Township Health Office Stephanie Carey, whose department oversees public health for the boroughs of Pennington and Hopewell, said outbreaks of novel virus infections are always a public health concern.

“The fact that this virus has caused severe illness and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning, but it’s unclear how the situation in the United States will unfold at this time,” Carey said. “For the general American public, including people in Hopewell and Pennington, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low. The goal of the ongoing public health response is to prevent sustained spread of 2019-nCov in the US.”

She explained that people are in the middle of the flu season.

“The flu season has sickened millions of people in the US and killed about 10,000 so far this season.  If you are sick, please stay home; If your kids are sick, don’t send them to school,” Carey said. “That’s how you stop the spread of viruses: Wash your hands, Cover your cough, stay home when you are sick.”

Robert English, the health officer for Hopewell Township, said while the CDC considers this to be a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk from the 2019-nCoV to the general public in the U.S. is considered low at this time.

“Local health department information on 2019-nCOV comes from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), which is passed down from the CDC,” English said. “In regard to prevention, following CDC/NJDOH best practices for prevention are absolutely recommended.  In addition to prevention of 2019-nCOV infection, these practices will help prevent infection with influenza and other seasonal flulike illnesses.”

He reported that specific to 2019-nCOV, residents should review and follow CDC travel advisories when planning travel.

Princeton’s health officer, Jeff Grosser, agreed with the notion that the general public in the United States risk is low to the disease and residents in Princeton risk is low.

“There are a small number of cases in the U.S. To limit the risk of spread, health officials are working with healthcare providers to promptly identify and evaluate anyone they think may have the virus,” Grosser said. “Because this is an evolving situation, I would say Princeton residents should continue to check the CDC, state Department of Health and the Princeton Health Department websites for the most up to date, reputable information.”

He explained that the office has received a number of inquiries about whether they should continue to order products from places experiencing the coronavirus outbreak.

“Princeton residents should know that there is no restriction on ordering items from those areas,” Grosser said.

The Middlesex County Office of Health Services, which covers Cranbury Township, reported that the office has been working with local health departments, local hospitals, the state Department of Health and other public health partners.

“There are currently no cases in New Jersey and the CDC is stating that the risk to the general public in the United States at this time is low,” said Kim Burnett, Middlesex County spokeswoman. “To prevent the spread of illness, individuals should follow good respiratory hygiene practices.”

Health officials said common prevention practices include, following good respiratory hygiene recommendations; cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands; wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available; staying home if you are sick and avoid sick people.