The Utah Department of Health says it is actively monitoring an outbreak caused by a new coronavirus called COVID-19. The virus was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. The department is emphasizing that while the outbreak is expanding in China and other countries – including the United States – no cases have been confirmed in Utah.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death.
The CDC website states that, while information so far suggests that most coronavirus illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases – older people and people with certain underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes seem to be at greater risk of serious illness.
As of press time, there have been 80 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases in the U.S. (in 13 states) and nine deaths.
Due to coronavirus concerns, the CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy; entry of foreign nationals from China and Iran has been suspended. The CDC recommends that older adults or those who have chronic medical conditions consider postponing travel to Japan.
“This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation,” the CDC website states, “and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance.”
Local Hospital Response
Moab Regional Hospital said in a March 3 statement that it works closely with the Utah Department of Health and the CDC.
“Even though this a worrisome public health situation, the immediate health risk is still low and no cases have yet been confirmed in Utah,” the statement said. “Moab Regional Hospital has prepared for global viral outbreaks and has policies and procedures in place to keep healthcare providers and our community safe.”
The hospital advises residents and visitors experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, chills and body aches who have not traveled to higher-risk areas – Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong –to utilize the urgent care services at Moab Regional Hospital.
Urgent Care is located within Moab Regional Hospital (450 Williams Way) and is open Monday through Saturday from 1 to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
However, those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms and have recently traveled from Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, China, or Hong Kong – or have been in contact with a person known to have coronavirus – should not visit urgent care. Instead, if symptoms are mild, call the Utah Department of Health Department at 888-374-8824. It is available around the clock.
Those experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should go to the emergency department at Moab Regional Hospital.
“Before you arrive, please call the hospital at 435-719-3500 and ask to speak to an emergency department nurse about coronavirus concerns,” the hospital said in the March 3 statement.
Agencies Advise Public
On March 2, state officials and elected representatives held a press conference announcing the creation of a state taskforce to address the potential spread of coronavirus. State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn reported that the state has tested 17 Utah residents with no positive results. As of press time, two results are still pending.
“Even though this is a worrisome public health situation, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 to the general public is believed to be low,” UDOH officials said in a statement.
“Utah’s disease surveillance system is working as designed, as public health officials and health care providers are coordinating to identify and investigate potential cases,” the statement continued.
The City of Moab reported that, locally, officials from the Southeast Utah Health Department, Grand County, Moab Regional Hospital, Grand County EMS and Emergency Services are joining to monitor and strategize their approach to the spread of any illness and to communicate updates to the public.
The UDOH also emphasized that no group of people should be treated differently because of the virus.
“While the origin of this particular outbreak can be traced back to China, it would be grossly inappropriate, not to mention medically ineffective, to ostracize anyone from our communities or exclude anyone from our places of public gathering based on their race, nationality, or ethnicity,” it said, adding that social media has fueled false or misleading rumors related to COVID-19.
According to the CDC, there is currently no vaccine.
“The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” the CDC said.
The CDC recommends preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
- 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.
- Only wear a facemask if you are already ill.
- 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.
- 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.
The CDC has issued further guidance for travelers, available on their website, www.cdc.gov
The website for the Utah State Taskforce is www.coronavirus.utah.gov
Potential Impact on Utah’s Visitor Economy
A March 4 statement by the Utah Office of Tourism said, “It will take time to gather new data and reporting to fully measure the impact (the travel restrictions will have. In the short-term, we can expect a decrease in visitation from China.”
The statement said that China is an important contributor to Utah’s visitor economy, with 83,821 Chinese visitors to the state of Utah in 2018 – Utah’s second largest international visitor market following Canada comprising 17.3% of international spending that year.
“We are monitoring consumer travel concerns that could influence visitation both domestically and from other countries including Italy, South Korea and Iran,” the statement said. “We continue to engage with industry leaders and health officials on any travel advisories or impacts this will have on Utah’s visitor economy. “
The Utah Office of Tourism statement also said that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Salt Lake Chamber, EDCUtah and World Trade Center Utah are collaborating with the Utah Department of Health to lead a YouTube Live webcast where they’ll share information about protective measures to take in the workplace on Tuesday, March 10, from 4 to 5 p.m.
The public is invited to watch the YouTube Live video stream at utahgoed.info/coronavirus. The recorded session will be available at the same URL immediately following the live video stream.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox will lead the session and Dunn will provide information and recommendations for Utah businesses.