Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
(Most recent update: 3/27/2020)
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a respiratory virus (SARS-CoV-2) first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. COVID-19 is a new virus that hasn’t caused illness in humans before. Cases have been reported worldwide, including in the United States. Most cases in the U.S. are associated with travel to an affected geographic area, or with close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19.
Are there any cases in the Jefferson County area?
As of March 26, 2020, over 1700 West Virginians have been tested for COVID-19. Of these, 76 were positive. Four of the positive cases were in Jefferson County residents who have been under voluntary home quarantine since first showing symptoms.
There have also been confirmed cases in our adjacent counties both inside and outside West Virginia.
For the most up-to-date information please check www.coronavirus.wv.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html
How does this disease spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spread from person-to-person via respiratory droplets. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others by coughing or sneezing. Patients who are suspected of having COVID-19 are being quarantined until their test results come in. If the result is positive the person will be isolated at home or in a hospital until they are no longer a risk to others.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- Difficulty breathing
Because these symptoms are so similar to seasonal cold and flu, travel and contact history are very important in determining whether you may have COVID-19. If you are feeling sick but you haven’t traveled to an affected geographic area or been in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 it is MUCH more likely you have a cold, flu, or seasonal allergies.
Should I be tested for COVID-19?
If you have recently traveled to an affected geographic area or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and you become sick with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call your healthcare provider. They will work with the health department and West Virginia’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology to determine whether you need to be tested. Testing criteria is based on type and severity of symptoms, potential exposure to someone confirmed to have the disease, and your recent travel history. Because the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to seasonal cold and flu, you will need to be tested for more common respiratory illnesses first.
If you are feeling sick but haven’t traveled outside the U.S. or been in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 it is MUCH more likely you have a cold, the flu, or seasonal allergies.
WVU Medicine East has set up a triage call-center to help people who think they may need to be tested: call 304-596-2890. West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources also has a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-887-4304.
Does Jefferson County have test kits?
This is a complicated one. The answer is yes, but also no.
Yes, because Jefferson County residents who meet the testing criteria can have a doctor take swabs from their nose and mouth. These specimens are shipped to a public health lab where they will be processed by trained technicians using specialized equipment.
No, because the “test kits” you hear about in the news are used by public health laboratories to process the specimens, not by local doctors to collect the specimens. West Virginia’s Office of Laboratory Services is located in Charleston (Kanawha County).
Not everyone who feels mildly ill needs to be tested. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to flu, and your doctor would give you the same advice for the flu: If you feel sick, stay home until you are well again, period. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home without any type of medical intervention. The most important thing you can do if you are sick is to prevent infecting other people. This is done by increasing hygiene and decreasing contact with others.
This is a very rapidly developing situation. A few months ago, there was no test for the novel coronavirus. A few weeks ago, only the CDC’s laboratory could perform tests. As of a few days ago, public health labs in every state can test. Federal and state public health agencies continue to work with hospitals and private labs to develop new and better ways to test for COVID-19. Due to the limited testing capacity at this time, only moderate-to-high risk patients are currently being tested. Risk assessment is based on type and severity of symptoms, travel history, and potential exposure to patients confirmed to have COVID-19. Risk assessment factors and testing criteria will change as this situation develops.
What is JCHD doing now that there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in our county?
We have three public health nurses at the health department, and all are trained in epidemiology and disease investigations. They work closely with our regional epidemiologist to coordinate investigations across county and state lines when necessary. They are screening possible COVID-19 patients is exactly what their training and experience has prepared them for. Investigating these cases involves interviewing the patients to get a detailed list of where they have been and who they have interacted with. Anyone with a reasonable possibility of exposure is contacted, interviewed about their symptoms, travel, and given counseling and instructions as necessary. Contacts may be asked to simply monitor their symptoms and report them to us, to self-quarantine at home, or to be tested at a local hospital.
We ask everyone to remember that we are right at the border where Cold & Flu Season meets Allergy Season, so not everyone with a slight cough has COVID-19. And even if they do, most people who get COVID-19 will be able to recover with no medical intervention. That’s why West Virginia is using our limited testing materials conservatively and prioritizing people with a high risk of complications, like people over 65 or who have chronic health conditions. Any otherwise healthy person who becomes sick with a fever and cough should stay home, monitor their symptoms, and contact their doctor if they need medical attention (call 911 in an emergency).
Everyone in Jefferson County should keep up with good hand-hygiene habits, practice social distancing, use good respiratory etiquette, and follow any recommendations from the CDC and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.
Should I be wearing a face mask when I go outside?
No. There is no need to wear a mask to protect yourself in public unless you are immune compromised or your doctor recommends it. Better ways to protect yourself include avoiding close contact with sick people, washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, and avoiding touching your face with unclean hands.
In some settings like a hospital or clinic waiting room, sick people may be asked to wear a mask to protect the people around them. Healthcare workers should protect themselves while treating potential or confirmed cases by wearing the appropriate type of mask properly fitted to their face and changed at regular intervals.
Is it safe to travel outside of the United States?
We recommend that everyone follow the Center for Disease Control’s travel advisories. These can be found on their website and are updated regularly.
What can I do to protect myself and my family?
What can I do to be prepared for possible community transmission in our area?
Some basic preparedness strategies that are helpful during a variety of emergencies:
- Make an emergency plan with your family
- Have a two-week supply of water and food available at home
- Keep supplies on hand that would be useful if you became sick and could not leave your home – things like over-the-counter pain relievers, cough medicine, tissues, and a thermometer
- If you take prescription drugs, make sure you refill before running out
- Stay informed by subscribing to nixle for general alerts, or to the health department’s news & alerts for health-specific topics
- Be aware of the CDC’s recommendations for community mitigation
What is the health department's role in pandemic preparedness?
- Jefferson County Health Department maintains a high level of situational awareness by receiving health alerts from state and federal public health agencies and distributing them to local healthcare providers via the West Virginia Public Health Alert System.
- We monitor all reportable diseases in Jefferson County residents, interview patients and potential contacts, and counsel patients on avoiding spreading diseases.
- We meet regularly with emergency preparedness partners in Jefferson County, the state of West Virginia, and the National Capital Region to build and maintain strong working relationships that will help us coordinate response efforts during emergencies.
- We prepare for pandemic or bioterrorism events by:
- Regularly reviewing and updating our All-Hazards Plan, with emphasis on medical countermeasures and emerging infectious diseases
- Participating in drills and exercises with local and regional partners to test and improve our capabilities to provide a scalable, flexible response to public health emergencies
- Maintaining a Continuity of Operations Plan to ensure continuous provision of essential public health services during emergency situations
- In the event a disease outbreak is suspected locally, JCHD will coordinate with healthcare providers and the West Virginia Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology (DIDE) on laboratory testing, isolation and quarantine. If multiple West Virginia counties are affected, DIDE will take on a leadership role in investigating and developing recommendations for the public.
- If many cases occur in Jefferson County and local resources are overwhelmed, our health officer would be responsible for declaring a public health emergency and requesting state or federal assistance.
- If a vaccine or medication is available, JCHD is responsible for distributing or administering it to the public as needed and appropriate. Hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities serving vulnerable populations would be prioritized for distribution.
Where can I go to learn more about COVID-19?
The CDC has an in-depth FAQ page that is updated regularly: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
More information can be found on West Virginia’s COVID-19 website: coronavirus.wv.gov
Office of Environmental Health Services website: wvdhhr.org/oehs/public_health/COVID_19_Info.asp