Bucks County health officials are optimistic about avoiding an outbreak of coronavirus, but they aren’t taking any chances.
They have been asking residents returning from China to stay at home for two weeks, and folks thus far have been understanding and eager to comply.
“People are being cooperative,” said Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. “We haven’t had to convince anyone.”
The fact that health officials know whom to approach about self-quarantine is no accident. They get a daily list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via the Pennsylvania Department of Health of everyone who has just returned from China, and of that group, who has also visited Hubei Province, home of Wuhan, Central China’s most populous city and the epicenter of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.
American citizens returning on flights from China are redirected to one of 11 airports where they undergo health screening by the CDC. Those without symptoms of the illness are allowed to go home, where they get a call from their local health department.
“People returning to Bucks that are asymptomatic and not from Wuhan, we are asking them to remain home for 14 days, and to avoid going out,” explained Dr. Damsker. “It’s about limiting their public activities — no work, no school, no church, but they can run to CVS and use the drive-through.”
Those who visited Hubei Province during their China stay receive a more insistent message about voluntarily quarantining themselves in the form of a letter.
“If they are from Wuhan, then we’re more assertive with the quarantine, we speak to them and say if you have any health issue let us know first,” said Damsker. “They’re told ‘You must remain in your home, you’re quarantined.'”
So far, fewer than 100 people throughout Bucks County are under voluntary quarantine.
“They’re all being monitored, and we’re handling the situation seriously and making sure everyone is informed,” Damsker said. “We’re ready, and we’re hoping that because the CDC is taking this so seriously, we won’t see an outbreak in Bucks. I think they’re going to succeed. If the outbreak dies out in China quickly, then we have a good shot.”
Damsker also emphasized that the public shouldn’t overreact to the threat, for example by avoiding local Chinese restaurants.
“Anyone working in a Chinese restaurant, if they recently came back from China, we would prevent them from working,” he said.