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Frequent hand washing, staying home if you feel sick and avoiding close contact with ill people are actions that Board of Health member Maria Tamagna urged the public take to reduce the chances of spreading respiratory diseases such as the coronavirus.

Tamagna, a member of the Saugus Board of Health who works as the public health nurse for the City of Malden, recommended that people wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and refrain from touching their mouth, eyes and nose to prevent the possible spread of viruses – including the COVID-19 strain that originated in China and has confirmed cases in more than 80 countries.

Board of Health Chairman Bill Heffernan reported that Saugus had one possible instance of a resident contracting COVID-19, but it turned out to not be a positive case.

After participating in a conference call with Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials, Tamagna said that residents should follow the travel guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a March 4 memorandum sent to local boards of health, Massachusetts State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown spelled out the revised CDC guidance regarding returning travelers from Level 2 and Level 3 countries.

According to the CDC, United States residents returning from China and Iran will continue to be identified for state health departments by the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine and the Department of Public Health will continue to request local health department assistance in monitoring these returnees and supporting them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

If people under quarantine show symptoms of COVID-19 there is a procedure in place to get them medical care, Tamagna said.

As Brown outlined in her memo, the CDC is recommending that everyone avoid all non-essential travel to Level 3 countries (China, Iran, Italy and South Korea) and that older individuals and those with chronic health conditions avoid non-essential travel to Level 2 countries (currently Japan).

The CDC changes in guidance for returnees from Level 2 and 3 countries are as follows:

• Returning travelers from Level 3 countries other than China and Iran (currently Italy and South Korea) are asked to self-quarantine (“stay home") for 14 days since the date of entry to the United States and self-monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19. CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine will not be providing traveler information on returnees from these countries to states. DPH will not be asking local health departments to educate these travelers on self-quarantine nor actively monitor these individuals during their 14-day quarantine period.

• Returning travelers from Level 2 countries (Japan) are asked to limit contact with others and self-monitor for symptoms.

 

‘Let’s not all be hysterical’

Tamagna said she would be remiss to not point out that the number of people affected by COVID-19 is far less than those diagnosed with the flu each year.

There is no need for healthy people to wear masks for protection from the coronavirus, Tamagna said. The

“Let’s not all be hysterical,” Tamagna said, noting that the threat to Saugus residents of contracting COVID-19 is still very low.

Saugus Public Health Nurse Mary McKenzie has advocated for the town taking steps to ready for a possible coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi Jr. sent a letter to parents in which he explained that the school district recognizes COVID-19 as a public health concern and administrators are monitoring news updates on the disease.

 

Coronavirus symptoms

Symptoms for COVID-19, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure, include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and in severe cases, pneumonia (fluid in the lungs). The illness has been estimated to last between two to three weeks for those infected.

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. The mortality rate is reported at about 2 percent in the center of the outbreak in China, and less than that elsewhere.

For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1 percent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths worldwide annually.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. On March 2, DPH announced the first presumptive positive case identified by the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory. CDC will conduct additional testing to confirm this possible second case.

Coronaviruses are generally spread between people in close contact with one another (within 6 feet) and through respiratory secretions (droplets from coughs and sneezes) of an infected person to another person.

It may also be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. People with the coronavirus are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic and sick.

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