Summary of Statewide Conference Call with NM Department of Health
Chief John Murtagh
March 3, 2020
Update on COVID-19 / Novel Coronavirus
#1 – There are currently 0 cases in New Mexico.
There are hundreds of test kits available and the State lab is prepared to begin testing once this virus is in New Mexico. The CDC, and others, is working on additional and improved testing kits as well as anti-viral medications. For information visit https://nmhealth.org and click on newsroom at the top of the page, then click on specific articles under “Latest”.
At the bottom of the article “Department of Health still on alert for novel coronavirus” is a link to a micro-website for up-to-date information specific to New Mexico, https://cv.nmhealth.org/. You can also visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov for more information.
INFORMATION FROM THE CONFERENCE CALL
What is Novel Coronavirus? It is a family of viruses which includes the common cold and the SARS virus. Currently, the virus causes mild illness in 81% of those affected. Typically, a person will present with Fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It requires specimen collection and lab testing to confirm the virus. The transmission is person-to-person, and even A-symptomatic patients may spread the virus. There are 12 States in the US that have a total of 105 cases as of today. The WHO is monitoring the virus and has yet to declare a Pandemic (a Pandemic is defined as a virus that causes disease in Humans, it spreads from person-to-person, and it spreads easily from person-to-person).
Current New Mexico Response
A) Monitoring travelers with level 3 advisories in effect. Epidemiology professionals are in contact with travelers from affected areas to have them self-monitor temperatures and signs/symptoms.
B) Working with Healthcare Systems for preparedness, hospital bed availability, and available personal protective equipment.
C) Lab testing is available at the NM State lab and they are working with commercial labs, such as tri-core, to expand testing as needed.
D) Identifying groups that need testing which includes control groups.
E) Hosting webinars and additional teleconferencing with school systems, hospitals, clinics, daycares, and other government agencies.
Should Community Spread Begin In New Mexico
A) NM Department of Health would increase messaging.
B) NM Department of Health will begin to direct care.
C) Because only 81% of those affected may experience mild illness, they will recommend self-quarantine and care at home. They will establish triage and nurse hotlines.
D) They will encourage those affected not to overwhelm hospitals and clinics.
E) They will focus on high-risk populations and the severely ill.
F) Develop alternate care sites
G) Enact plans already in place with hospitals (Pandemic Planning)
H) They may recommend social distancing; meaning closure of schools, cancelling mass gatherings and events, and tele-commuting to work when possible.
I) The NM DOH is currently watching the State of Washington and other States to determine a “best-practices” approach.
J) NM already has increased surveillance for influenza, and they would shift that focus to Covid-19.
What To Do Now
A) Encourage respiratory illness prevention which includes hand washing, covering your mouth to cough, stay at home when sick, and increase cleaning frequency of commonly touched surfaces.
A Few Facts and Precautions: Malia Jones PhD, MPH
First and foremost: we are going to see a tremendous increase in the number of US cases of COVID-19 in the next week. This is not because of some new pattern in the spread of the disease, but rather due to a major change in the requirements to be tested.
Second: is that panic legitimate? Sort of. This is not the zombie apocalypse. The death rate of 30 deaths per 1000 cases is probably a wild overestimate. (The denominator is almost certainly wrong because it is confirmed cases–and we only confirm cases when we test for them).
Third: Unlike flu, COVID-19 is not *particularly* dangerous for children, so that’s some happy news. It is dangerous for older adults and those with lung conditions, so we need to be extra careful to protect those populations from exposure.
What can we do? Our focus should be on *slowing down the spread* of this disease so that we have time to get caught up. Here is my advice:
1. Wash. Your. Hands. Wash them so much. The current best guess is that coronavirus is transmitted via close contact and surface contamination. A very small study came out last week suggesting that the virus causing COVID-19 is *mostly* transmitted via contact with contaminated surfaces.
2. Don’t pick your nose. Or put your fingers in your mouth, on your lips, or in your eyes. Surface contact works like this: you touch something dirty. Maybe it’s an elevator button. Virus sticks to your hands. Then you rub your eye. Then you touch your sandwich, and put the sandwich in your mouth. Now there is virus in your eyes and mouth. See? You may be thinking, but I don’t pick my nose because I am an adult! An observational study found that people sitting at a desk working touched their eyes, nose, or lips between 3 and 50 times per hour. Perfectly normal grown-ups, not lowlifes like my friends.
2a. There was one note that came out suggesting that face masks actually promote surface contamination because you’re always adjusting them–i.e., touching your face. I don’t know if that’s true. But face masks should not be worn by the healthy public right now, unless you are the person who is sick and you’re on your way to or actually at the doctor’s office.
3. Sanitize the objects you and lots of other people touch, especially people outside your family–like door handles, shared keyboards at schools (brrr), salad bar tongs, etc. Best guesses are that the virus can live on surfaces for 2-48 hours, maybe even longer, depending on the surface, temperature, and humidity.
4. “Social distancing.” You’re going to get so sick of this phrase. This means keeping people apart from one another (preferably 6 feet apart, and sanitizing shared objects).
5. All your travel plans are about to possibly get screwed up. If you are considering booking flights right now, get refundable tickets.
6. If you are sick, stay home. Please! For the love of all that is holy. Stay at home. Your contributions to the world are really just not that important.
7. Look, I think there are some positives here. All this handwashing could stop flu season in its tracks!
Thanks for checking your facts!