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Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. Unknown until late last year, COVID-19 has emerged as an international issue almost as fast as the disease has spread.
Originally emanating from China through people with a connection to that country, it has now afflicted people who have no connection to China. It is thought to be most easily spread where many people congregate in enclosed areas, like schools, apartment and condominium complexes, cruise ships, hotels, office buildings and malls. In other words, places most people go.
Medford is no more vulnerable an area than anyplace else, but neither is it less vulnerable.
“We are meeting every few days with department heads to prepare and plan,” Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said, but deferred additional comment to the following statement released by the city’s Director of Public Health MaryAnn O'Connor:
“The Board of Health is monitoring the situation and participates in weekly conference calls with the CDC and MA DPH. While the risk remains low we are preparing for what could happen if that changes. These include both community wide planning efforts and departmental function planning. Community-wide planning includes planning for social distancing efforts such as cancellation of events and community programming if an outbreak occurs, reviewing plans and policies regarding isolation and quarantine by the Board of Health and preparing to dispense vaccine when a vaccine is developed. Departments will be reviewing their essential functions and developing plans for how these functions will be maintained. This includes preparing for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness. Ideas include cross training personnel, determining if functions can be performed remotely, potentially changing practices if needed to maintain critical functions or suspending some operations if needed.
“All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from coronavirus while ensuring continuity of operations. If an outbreak occurs, all sick employees should stay home, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.
“This is an evolving situation and only one case still in MA so there are no plans for school closings. Depending on what happens, that is an option as are other social distancing tools. We will monitor and take necessary actions if and when needed.”
As of March 9, there are now 41 known cases in Massachusetts, several due to a Biogen meeting in Boston.
Tufts University is also monitoring the situation.
“As you might imagine, we are continuing to monitor this rapidly-changing situation closely,” Tufts Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins said. “Given the CDC’s guidance this week, we are aware of the potential for COVID-19 to disrupt normal operations, and are factoring that into ongoing planning and preparation, which involve a range of potential contingencies, both the near and longer-term.
“The university’s emergency response team continues to monitor the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 along with local public-health partners in Medford, Somerville, Boston, and Grafton,” he continued. “No members of the Tufts community have been identified as having the coronavirus, and we continue to be informed that the risk to the Tufts community remains low. Meanwhile, we continue to remind our community members about the need for good hygiene practices, to keep current travel guidance and restrictions in mind if they are planning to travel and continually monitor those restrictions. They are likely to evolve as the situation changes rapidly.”
Tufts also released the following statement as a guideline for travel and prevention that is applicable to the entire community: “As you plan for possible university-related travel or independent personal travel, please keep current travel guidance and restrictions in mind,” it reads. “Also keep in mind the spread of this virus is evolving rapidly, which means travel guidance and restrictions will likely evolve. Tufts strongly advises students, faculty and staff, to avoid travel to affected areas and to monitor entry restrictions, quarantines, and isolation protocols for any country to which they are considering traveling.
“We also strongly encourage travelers to monitor U.S. restrictions, quarantines, and isolation protocols that may be in place upon their return,” it continues. “It is difficult to predict how current travel guidance and restrictions may change, particularly in Europe given the recent outbreak in Northern Italy. As cases continue to spread in Asia, similar protocols, advisories, and restrictions may also be implemented.
“If you do choose to travel, it is important to follow all local directives, update the Tufts Travel Registry with your trip itinerary and dates, and monitor restrictions and advisories through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), U.S. Department of State, and International SOS. Registering your travel with the Tufts Travel Registry gives you access to up-to-date information from International SOS and access to medical services while abroad.
“Download the International SOS app and sign up for alerts for your destination. Monitor International SOS updates for your current location and research your destination in the ISOS Communication Portal prior to departing.
“As a reminder, to help prevent the spread of illness, including the flu and common cold: wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer; keep germs from spreading by coughing into your sleeve, not your hand; avoid sharing drinks, food, and/or cigarettes or vaping products and if you share a room or apartment with someone who is sick, try to stay at least 6 feet away to prevent exposure through coughing.”