As concerns over the spread of the coronavirus continues throughout the area, local physicians and officials are sending multiple messages to residents, advising them to take considerable preventative measures.
Dr. Alan Kaplan, chief of emergency services for Syosset Hospital and Plainview Hospital, said in an interview that the public needs to relax and remain calm. However, Kaplan, one of Northwell Health’s leaders in emergency medicine, advised schools and employers to consider keeping people at home temporarily.
“I think that’s actually what we’re trying to do,” Kaplan, who is a professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University, said. “We’re trying to mitigate the spread of it. If everyone separated and doesn’t congregate together, that can limit the spread of the virus. The more people are separated, the better chance you have at mitigating the spread.”
Many businesses in Nassau County have temporarily shut down their in-person operations to help prevent any potential spread of the coronavirus or any other infectious diseases. Several area universities, including Hofstra, are closed until further notice as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to assess what steps should be taken in the coming weeks.
Kaplan believes that the right thing to do is to stay home, but to also not give into the fear. The disease does not spread through the air, which means face masks are not necessary.
“I think everything is temporary,” Kaplan said. “Once the testing capabilities are ramped up—I think as more people get it and recover—a lot of it is how it’s being framed. If you look at it in comparison to the other viral infections like the peak season now of the flu, it’s really putting things into perspective.”
Kaplan said the coronavirus spreads by the same means as influenza, which is “through droplets and contact, so if you touch a surface with the virus, you can get it.” The main way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading is through thorough hand washing.
“Obviously, the thing to know is that it’s a virus that can be transmitted if they don’t take proper precautions,” Kaplan said. “For the vast majority of people, it’s similar to the flu. People shouldn’t panic. As we move forward, people should limit their interactions, especially with people they know who are sick. Frequent hand washing is the most important. The best way to avoid transmission of any virus is through proper hand washing.”
If people stay home and take the proper steps to prevent the spread of the disease, Kaplan believes the coronavirus will be under control.
“You have to wash your hands for a good 15 to 20 seconds before you rinse,” Kaplan said. “People try to put a little soap on and shpritz, rinsing it off quickly, but that’s not going to cut it. You have to do proper hand washing. Hand sanitizer is good, but it’s a second option when soap isn’t available. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as good as proper hand washing.”
Northwell Health was recently approved to begin testing samples of the coronavirus at its labs on Long Island. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Northwell will test about 75 to 80 samples each day, but automated testing was not initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Northwell received approval for semi-automated testing on March 12.
Northwell CEO Michael Dowling appeared on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street last week, saying the health care organization “activated our emergency management system six weeks ago when, at the federal level, people were talking about it.”
The Jericho School District on March 11 announced all schools were closing on Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13, due to a “reliable unconfirmed” case of the coronavirus in the area. A district official also told parents they should “not contact your child’s school.”
The district initially canceled all after-school programs on March 11 prior to sending an email to parents, staff and students that said, “It was determined that no student or staff member has the virus.” However, out of an abundance of caution, the district closed for at least those two days. The district spokesperson did not issue an official statement until Thursday afternoon.
“We are receiving new information, guidelines and procedures from various agencies on a daily basis,” Jericho Superintendent Hank Grishman said in a statement on Thursday. “In a message that was sent to parents via a robocall on Wednesday, we asked parents to not call the school with follow up questions as we were sharing as much as we were able to and we were overwhelmed with phone calls. There was no new information at that time. As soon as we had more information, we followed up with another call. We are bound by many regulations, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as to what we can share. We are in constant communication with parents and staff, and sharing all of the information that we have. Please know that I hold the health and safety of each and every one of our children close to my heart. I truly feel that we are taking all possible measures to keep our children safe.”
In late January, Jericho High School canceled a student-exchange program with a group of children from China. The students, who are from Xi’an, were scheduled to start their visit in Jericho on Jan. 30. Due to the concern of the coronavirus, the school officially canceled the program on Jan. 27, and Grishman notified all parents and staff about the decision via email.
Plainview High School did close last week after a staffer was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
But just because health officials are telling employers and school districts to shut down temporarily does not mean people should get anxious, Kaplan explained.
“People should not panic,” Kaplan said. “Take care of themselves with proper hand washing and don’t run to a hospital if they have a fever or a cough. Hospitals should be reserved if you are seriously ill.”