Dr. Caitlin Pedati, state medical director and epidemiologist, provided information at the Senate Human Resources committee on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Pedati said the general public is not at risk of the virus because it is not circulating in Iowa communities. The risk in Iowa remains low, Pedati said. There are no cases here in Iowa.
“But, what we’ve recognized in conjunction with our federal partners and global partners in public health, is that as other countries have seen, sustained community spread of this virus, the potential does exist for spread to occur,” she said.
It’s something public health wants to prepare for.
“This is a serious public health concern,” she said.
Coronavirus is actually related to a family of viruses. She said there are seven different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of those are very common and cause mild cold-like symptoms.
“In fact, most of us have probably had one at some point,” she said.
In addition to those four, there are three rare viruses that include SARS, MERS and the new COVID-19.
“All of these coronaviruses are currently spread through droplet transmission,” she said.
Initially, when this virus was identified, it was associated with a particular seafood market. The working theory is this virus moved from the animal world into the human world.
“Initially we really thought this was animal-to-human spread,” she said. “Subsequently we’re seeing that this virus is capable of infecting person-to-person. This is a virus that can move from one person to another.”
There are now cases in 30 other jurisdictions outside of China.
The CDC has recommended travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China and South Korea. Iran, Italy and Japan are experiencing sustained community transmission of the virus. The CDC has advised older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel to those locations.
The CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to Hong Kong. They encourage the usual precautions.
Pedati said things can change quickly, however.
In the United States, there have been 12 travel-related cases of Coronavirus. There are two that were spread person-to-person. Among people repatriated to the U.S., there have been three positive cases from Wuhan, China and 36 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The Iowa Department of Public Health is providing information as soon as it can on its website. Pedati encouraged people to visit the website for the most up-to-date information.
Seven people in Iowa are currently being monitored in Iowa who are asymptomatic. Thirty have completed public health monitoring. Two people tested negative for the virus in Iowa.
Testing for the virus can only be done at the CDC. If testing is appropriate, IDPH and the State Hygienic Laboratory work together to get samples to the CDC. Samples include a swab of the nose and throat. Pedati said the testing is similar to a test for strep.
While there are efforts underway to evaluate for potential therapeutics and vaccines, none currently exist.
Prevention includes simple steps, Pedati said. Washing hands often with soap and water, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when one is sick and covering your mouth with your upper arm when coughing or sneezing all go a long way in keeping everyone healthy.
“We know people don’t like to put the work burden on others when they’re missing work,” Pedati said. “But it’s such a critical thing to do not just to speed the recovery for your own health but also to protect others.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health wants Iowans to prepare for COVID-19 just like they would for a severe weather event or flu season.
“Anything that might affect the health and functioning of your family,” Pedati said. “Any time we have something new or uncertain, it can be scary. And, there is still much we don’t know about this particular virus. As we learn more, we’ll turn around and share information with key partners. This is the type of work that public health prepares for.”
Pedati said more information on the Coronavirus can be found online.
During the Q&A session with senators, Pedati said the educated estimate for how long it will be before Iowa is able to do in-state testing is likely one or two weeks.
She said the Novel Coronavirus could become a pandemic, but is not at that level yet.
The mortality rate of Novel Coronavirus is 1-2 percent in the epicenter. Outside of that area, Pedati said, it’s around 0.7 percent. She said those numbers, though, are based on reports from other countries. And, people can be affected differently as the virus moves from one jurisdiction to another.
“What I’m trying to convey is, we have some information, but I think there’s still unfortunately much we don’t know,” she said.
The mortality rate for SARS and MERS was closer to 10 percent, Pedati said.
“There’s much more of a range than we’ve seen with SARS and MERS,” she said.
People with SARS or MERS became severely ill.
“For whatever reason, it appears this COVID-19, some people have mild symptoms and in fact recover and do well at home,” she said.