While there are still no confirmed cases of the deadly new coronavirus in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh met with health advisers in City Hall on Monday to discuss local preparedness efforts in response to the international outbreak.
Leaders from the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Emergency Medical Services gathered to go over what steps are being taken for an effective response, if needed, to the virus, which has affected five people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC expects more Americans will be diagnosed with the newly discovered virus as the number of confirmed cases worldwide is nearing 3,000. The virus is believed to have an incubation period of up to two weeks after exposure and can cause a fever, coughing, wheezing, and pneumonia.
These symptoms are nearly identical to the flu, Jennifer Lo, the medical director of BPHC, said, and Boston is in the heart of flu season.
“Your best bet right now is to protect yourself against the flu and all viruses,” she said. “Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, stay home if you’re sick, and just take care of yourselves.”
So while the risk of flu-like symptoms being the new coronavirus is low, she said, they are taking extra precautions.
BPHC has set up an internal incident command system to help health partners at the local, state, and federal levels communicate on the latest information, reports, and concerns over the virus.
Lo said the commission is coordinating response efforts with Boston’s other health care providers and running exercises on how to respond to a scenario if the virus spreads in Boston. She said BPHC is also in communication with Massport, which runs Logan Airport, to work on safety protocols for passengers and staff.
As of Monday, she said Logan was not one of the five airports screening their passengers.
The commission is also working to inform the public, Lo said, by posting educational materials regarding the coronavirus to their website and social media.
As the virus spreads, the CDC is reporting many suspected cases, but only five confirmed cases in the U.S. Lo said the public will only be notified of confirmed coronavirus cases in Boston.
James Hooley, chief of Boston EMS, said they have put procedures in action to eliminate cross contamination after using ambulances and other medical equipment, too.
“From all the research and guidance of the procedures that we have, the disinfection solutions we’ve used are adequate to cover the situation,” he said.
Walsh said he urges everyone to check on others who may be more vulnerable or have pre-existing medical conditions.
“Check in on people who are more vulnerable. We want you to check on your neighbors,” he said. “Boston is certainly a city with a big heart, which means we’re always looking out for our neighbors.”
Above all, Walsh said to be aware of your health, be proactive, and contact your primary care physician if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.
“What we don’t want to do is put fear in people across the city of Boston or here in the country,” he said. “But if you have flu-like symptoms, and you’re not sure, you’re always best not to sit back and Google it and see, you know, what is this, your best bet is to contact your primary care physician.”