WESTFIELD, NJ — Local health officials are advising the public to take basic precautions to avoid contracting a new virus that started in Wuhan, China, and has become a “serious public health concern” in the United States.

Coronavirus is a respiratory infection that spreads much like cold virus and tends to circulate the in the fall in winter, Megan Avallone, director of the Westfield Regional Health Department, said in a news release Monday.

“While the CDC considers this to be a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk from the 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time,” Avallone said. People with the virus experience fever, coughing and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

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While there have been thousands of cases of the infection reported in China, the CDC reports that as of Sunday, U.S. health officials were investigating 110 cases in 26 states. New Jersey is not one of the states with a confirmed case of the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

But that hasn’t stopped local officials from preparing for the worst.

“The Westfield Regional Health Department is working with the NJ Department of Health to monitor the situation closely and is proactively preparing guidance documents for health care professionals to be able to effectively respond to any cases that may be identified in the state,” Avallone said.

She advised the public to take precautions to not only avoid the coronavirus but also to avoid the influenza. As of Jan. 18, state and national health officials had reported 39 pediatric flu deaths across the United States this season, with two of those cases in New Jersey, according to reports posted to the state Health Department website.

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Due to concerns about the coronavirus, the Westfield Area Chinese American Association canceled its annual Chinese New Year Gala, which had been set for Saturday, a spokesman for the group said. A new date has not yet been scheduled.

In Westfield, health officials are working with state agencies to develop plans should it identify ill travelers and is creating guidance documents for “investigating and managing suspect cases and their contacts,” Avallone said.

The Westfield Regional Health Department, which also serves Fanwood, Chatham Borough, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Summit issued the following guidance for the public:

  • Prevent the spread of germs by covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue (then properly disposing of the tissue) or sleeve, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers, touching pets, and commonly used surfaces. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you are sick and avoid sick people.
  • Review and follow CDC travel advisories when planning travel. If you become ill after returning home to the United States, call your healthcare provider before going to a doctor’s office or emergency department of a hospital. They may want to place a mask on you before you enter the building to protect other people.

For more information visit the CDC FAQ on Coronavirus or call the Westfield Regional Health Department at 908-789-4070.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh