Area hospitals prepare for potential coronavirus cases

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hospital systems around the Triangle are preparing for the possibility of a patient infected with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

No cases have been reported in North Carolina at this time.

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At the largest hospital system in Wake County, officials said in a written statement, "WakeMed continues to follow CDC guidelines as we address questions and concerns about coronavirus, and relevant screening questions related to travel history and symptoms are currently being implemented."

Officials are already screening patients at UNC Hospitals, including Rex in West Raleigh, and following the protocol for any infectious disease.

"We're making sure that our health care workers are doing the right precautions. They're taking no chances," said Marty Cooney, who is in charge of infection control at UNC REX.

Cooney said another virus outbreak a few years ago revolutionized infection control procedures.

"When we had the Ebola scare, that was a big eye opening for many hospitals in America," Cooney said. "We put together a highly infectious disease plan that could be substituted for anything like Ebola, SARS, MERS, or even the corona novel virus strain."

For now, novel coronavirus is nowhere near as deadly as SARS or MERS--two other forms of coronavirus--which both have a 30 to 40 percent mortality rate.

In fact, it's not as widespread as the flu. the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 32 and 45 million people have gotten the flu since October 2019. CDC estimates between 18,000 and 46,000 people have died from the flu in the United States this year.

So far COVID-19 has been deadly in just 3.4 percent of the cases.

But that could change as novel coronavirus numbers continue to climb.

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"Even if coronavirus was to come here with more frequency than what we see at the moment, we've had a solid month and half now of good preparation time where lab capacity has improved," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe with Duke Hospitals.

Like the other hospital systems in the area, Wolfe said Duke is working closely with federal, state, and local health officials to track the novel coronavirus's spread through the United States.

All area hospitals are assuming the virus will come to the Triangle.

"It can definitely happen," Cooney said. "We are already prepared, though. We've been prepared, if you think about in a hospital we see infectious patients every day."

But Cooney said that doesn't mean they are taking the novel coronavirus threat lightly.

"We're in constant meetings about this," he said. "We take it quite seriously. We make sure that we stay on top of this."

Cooney also said residents need to continue washing their hands frequently and thoroughly and sneezing into their elbow.

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Cumberland County health officials show proper hand washing technique to avoid disease.

Editor's note: In the attached video, the mortality rate for the flu was listed as 6.9 percent. The copy of this story has been corrected to reflect accurate numbers.
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