HINGHAM — The town's health department is staying in close contact with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as cases of coronavirus begin to crop up in the United States.

"We are ready and able to respond to cases in real time and conduct an appropriate response 24/7," the department said in an advisory.

In the advisory, the department urged residents to follow recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases like coronavirus, and to call the Hingham Health Department at 781-741-1466 with questions or concerns.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory diseases of varying severity, from the common cold to more serious illnesses. This particular virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.”

In January, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” Globally, there have been about 90,000 confirmed cases of the disease and about 3,000 deaths. The vast majority of positive diagnoses and deaths have been in China, where this particular strain is thought to have originated.

According to the CDC, 60 people across 12 states have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the U.S., resulting in six deaths.

“Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern… At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus,” the CDC said on its website.

According to the CDC, symptoms of the disease can range from mild to very severe. Symptoms include the typical signs of a respiratory illness, including a fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The virus is thought to spread mainly from close contact between people, or through droplets produced when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes.

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, there is currently no vaccine to prevent it. Here are the CDC’s recommendations for preventing the spread of respiratory diseases like coronavirus:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

• Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.

o CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

o Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

o If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

If you have a fever, a cough or difficulty breathing and have been in close contact with a person known to have coronavirus or have recently traveled in a country where the virus is spreading, the CDC says, you should call your healthcare provider, who can work with public health officials to determine if you need to be tested.

Coronavirus in Massachusetts

One person, a student at University of Massachusetts, Boston, has been diagnosed with coronavirus in Massachusetts. The man, who is in his 20s and lives in Boston, is showing “positive signs of recovery,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

No one on the South Shore has been confirmed to have contracted the virus. A Cohasset teacher is under self-quarantine in her home after she was exposed to the virus while on a school trip to Italy and showed some symptoms of the virus, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The woman, who is in her 20s, tested positive for the virus on Monday night, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will test specimens from her to confirm whether or not she actually has the virus.

As of last week, DPH said, 608 people in Massachusetts have self-quarantined because of potential contact with coronavirus since the outbreak began in January. Of those, 231 are currently quarantined, while the rest have completed a period of monitoring and are no longer required to quarantine themselves.

School Response

In a Feb. 27 letter to Hingham Public School families, Superintendent of Schools Paul Austin urged parents and guardians to keep their children home from school if they are sick. Students should not attend school if they have a fever, coughing, diarrhea, any undiagnosed rash, red or pink itchy eyes or any eye drainage, he wrote. Students should also stay home if they have contagious illness like chicken pox, strep throat or the flu.

Austin said the school district is remaining in contact with the town’s board of health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, including the state’s School Health Unit.

School employees are working to sanitize the schools, which Austin said is their typical practice during cold and flu season.

“We are following all recommended guidelines to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” he wrote. “We remain deeply committed to student and staff wellness and will continue to share new information with you, as necessary, about this evolving situation.”