Coronavirus Concerns Cause Community Cancellations

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County health commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein informs the public about the virus. (Photo by Mike Adams)

The Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA) cancelled plans to celebrate the Lunar New Year at Great Neck South High School on Sunday out of concern that some community members who had recently travelled to Wuhan, China may be at risk for transmitting the novel coronavirus that has caused the city to be placed under quarantine.

GNCA Co-Vice President Kevin Sun emphasized this was just a cautionary measure, and any risk of spreading the virus is extremely low. He also added the festivities, one of the most important celebrations in Chinese culture, would be rescheduled for a time when nobody has to worry about the virus.

“For safety reasons we had to postpone the event,” Sun said. “There’s no big concern that there will be an outbreak in Great Neck, but just to be cautious we decided to postpone. These events are supposed to be celebrating our culture, so we want everybody to come to enjoy the celebration without the worry that something might happen.”

Sun said the community has no need to worry excessively, but still cautioned the public to practice good hygiene.

Lunar New Year celebrations across the region were put on hold as worries spread about the emerging pathogen. To help ease concerns, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran held a press conference on Jan. 24 at Nassau University Medical Center with several county officials and health experts to brief the public on the virus and its relation to the county.

“We understand people are concerned, but we are urging everyone to stay calm as the risk to Nassau County is low at this time,” Curran said. “As always, we urge everyone to practice good hygiene and sanitary procedures. Wash your hands with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t do that. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and stay home when you feel sick.”

Nassau County Department of Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein eased concerns by reminding the public that this is the height of flu season, and anybody who experiences coronavirus-like symptoms almost certainly just has the flu or a cold.

“There are measures that anybody can take to avoid respiratory viruses,” Eisenstein said. “There is a respiratory virus in our community, and it’s the flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified around 110 people in the U.S. that met its criteria for possibly having coronavirus, which include a number of factors like recent travel to Wuhan, flu-like symptoms and lower respiratory issues, since the outbreak began. Eisenstein said one of those individuals was confirmed to have “passed through” Nassau County and was being tested, but since then officials have confirmed that person tested negative.

Like other coronaviruses, a family of viruses that includes the common cold, SARS and MERS, the novel coronavirus (designated 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization) detected in Wuhan causes symptoms that closely resemble those of the flu. Health experts say the major issues with the virus are its potential to cause possibly-fatal respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, as well as the possibility that its international spread might cause it to mutate in unforeseen ways. Wuhan has been placed under quarantine by the Chinese government, with the illness infecting around 4,500 in China and killing around 100 so far.

Currently, 2019-nCoV has been positively identified in five people within four states (Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois) according to the CDC. Internationally, the disease has been detected in much of east and southeast Asia, with additional confirmed cases in France and Australia.

Since 2019-nCoV is a new pathogen, experts are still working on identifying basic information about the virus.

Currently, the CDC has the only lab in the country that can reliably diagnose the novel coronavirus, but Eisenstein pointed out just about any general practice doctor could diagnose the flu. The CDC is updating their website as more information about the virus becomes available. Anybody who wants to find this information can visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

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