To the Editor:

The Westfield Board of Health met on March 2.

The new Coronavirus Disease of 2019, Covid-19, is now firmly in the United States and many people are concerned. For some people, it is alarming to see what happened in China and Europe and is now starting to happen here. So, we should be prepared and take precautions. More on that later.

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For now, let’s put this into perspective. We actually have many coronaviruses every year, but almost all have resulted in mild colds and have not been of concern. Covid-19 is the third severe coronavirus disease to sweep the globe. The first coronavirus outbreak years ago, SARS, was a major threat. It was much more lethal, but it faded. Similarly, the second deadly coronavirus, MERS, fortunately was more limited. Covid-19 appears to have emerged recently from wildlife, apparently bats, and crossed over into people, so it is not similar to the more usual coronaviruses.

Young people seem to get mild infections and their immune responses appear robust but not out of control, so they appear to recover well. In general, so do women. However, older people, especially men, and those with underlying medical conditions are more likely to get seriously ill. The death rate from Covid-19 is greatest among people over 70 years old and those with certain chronic diseases.

MORE: Health Officials: What Westfield Should Know About Novel Coronavirus

Covid-19 behaves very much like the flu, although it may have a higher case fatality rate. The symptoms and transmission of flu and Covid-19 appear similar. Unfortunately, influenza virus is currently widespread in New Jersey and we are still seeing many cases of influenza as well as other respiratory illnesses.

Testing for Covid-19 is currently limited. Therefore the wisest course is to deal with Covid-19 like a bad influenza, except there is no vaccine or antiviral medicine. So, we all should use other protective measures.

Some actions you can take to protect yourself and your family include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice), especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. But, always wash with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • Get the influenza vaccine if you did not get it yet. It does not prevent Covid-19, but may still prevent the flu, which can also infect you.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick and for 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into your elbow – a Dracula sneeze! – to avoid contaminating your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • If you are concerned you may have Covid-19, please call your health care provider BEFORE you visit the office. Although there are no antiviral medicines, there are measures you can take to manage your symptoms and prevent transmission to others.
  • NO need to use a respirator or mask in everyday situations yet, unless you are already sick. Otherwise, it is too early to use them outside medical environments.
  • If you have upper respiratory or flu-like symptoms, then use a facemask to help prevent spreading the virus to others.
  • Additional guidance on preparing your family and your home for all emergencies is available from the Westfield Regional Health Department at https://www.westfieldnj.gov/health in the Covid-19 Preparedness tab.
  • The 24-hour New Jersey Covid-19 Information Hotline is 1-800-222-1222. This is also the number for the New Jersey Poison Information and Education Service.

The Westfield Regional Health Department is actively monitoring the evolving situation, working with our local partners and the state health department, conducting surveillance, developing response and prevention plans and communications, providing consultations to local hospitals, physicians, schools and others, and assisting residents and addressing their concerns.

More information is available at the Westfield Regional Health Department https://www.westfieldnj.gov/health, the New Jersey Department of Health https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/ncov.shtml and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. This is a rapidly changing situation, so recommendations may change.

The complete minutes of the March 2 meeting will be posted after review and approval at our April 7 meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building. The public is invited to attend.

Lawrence D. Budnick, MD, MPH
President, Westfield Board of Health