UNION, NJ – Union’s Health Director provided information to residents about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, via a CodeRed alert and social media postings Thursday evening.

The information comes on the heels of a health information forum  that took place Tuesday night, hosted by State Senator Joseph Cryan and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, to discuss the Coronavirus, flu season and other public health issues.  About 80 residents attended the session.  At the forum, Marconi Gapas, Union’s Health Director was a panelist, along with Dr. Jason Kessler, Chief, Infectious Disease, Morristown Medical Center, Atlantic Health System, and Dr. Aditya Sanyal, a third year medical resident from Trinitas Medical Center.

At the forum, Kessler said the risk to the general public for coronavirus in the United States is very low.  He said people who have traveled in China, or who live in the same household or have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19, are at highest risk.  Older adults and those with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk.

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Kessler outlined steps to take to prevent the spread of flu and the common cold, which will also prevent coronavirus:

• Wash hands often with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer. 

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands

• Avoid contact with people who are sick

• Stay home while you are sick and avoid contact with others

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing

• Currently there are no vaccines available to prevent novel coronavirus infections.

Gapas said symptom characteristics include respiratory illness such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.  The symptoms vary from mild to severe and may appear two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.  The virus is thought to spread mainly between people in close contact with each other (within 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible to become infected by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus.

At the health information forum, Sanyal said the coronavirus began infecting humans in Wuhan, China in December 2019.  He said there is no immunity for the virus.  Sanyal said putting the risk for coronavirus into perspective, the flu causes millions of cases of illness each year in the United States.  He said in 2017-2018 the estimated number of deaths from the flu was 12,000-61,000. 

Sanyal added the virus is spread through the air by coughs and sneezes, by touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, or by close contact with those who are sick. 

“The Township of Union understands your concerns,” said Gapas in his communication to residents Thursday night.  “The Administration and my office keep in close contact with the State Department of Health and our public health partners as we continue to monitor this evolving situation. Please remember that while we see this to be a serious public health concern, based on the current information the immediate health risk to the general public is considered low at this time.”

Gapas said additional information can be found on a dedicated webpage on the Township website, www.uniontownship.com.

The NJDOH also opened a Novel Coronavirus Call Center 1- 800 222-1222 – This line is for the general public only, operates 24 hrs. a day /7 days a week, and can accommodate multiple languages.