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Porter preps for coronavirus, stays vigilant

One of the enemies of managing and responding to outbreaks … is misinformation. That can drive fear and panic.
— Porter Emergency Management Director Michael Leyden

MIDDLEBURY — While there were no confirmed Addison County or Vermont cases of the coronavirus from China as the Independent went to press on Friday, Porter Medical Center officials are putting together an action plan in case the disease makes its way to our area.
Porter Emergency Management Director Michael Leyden is spearheading the hospital’s preparedness efforts, which at this early stage involve learning a lot more about the disease and how it is spreading.
“We continue the work and we’re setting up resilient systems to manage all types of infectious diseases that could have impacts,” Leyden said. “Being a health care organization, we take whatever comes our way; there’s no closing the door. We have training and equipment in place to help manage risk and treat patients.”
First identified in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus has resulted in an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia — primarily in China, but also spreading to a growing number of countries, including the U.S. The outbreak began in December 2019 and continues to expand. The first case in the United States was announced on Jan. 21. As of this writing, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported six confirmed diagnoses in the U.S., with 121 potential cases pending. The confirmed six domestic cases are in Illinois, Arizona, California and Washington state.
The World Health Organization on Thursday cited 7,711 confirmed coronavirus cases throughout the China. Of those, 1,370 were deemed “severe,” with 170 deaths confirmed thus far. Another 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, according to the WHO.
Common coronavirus symptoms include respiratory distress, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties, according to the WHO. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Julia Harris, Porter’s Infection Control Coordinator, provided a list of PMC’s assets and policies for responding to, and managing, contagious diseases. PMC’s assets include an Infectious Disease Management Policy and an Emergency Preparedness Team and protocol, which has been activated.
In addition, Porter is in daily communication with the Vermont Department of Health and CDC. Hospital officials are slated to confer this week with the UVM Infection Prevention Department, and we will be communicating regularly with its partner hospitals in the UVM Health Network, according to Harris.
Leyden said county residents should be confident their hospital will be able to respond to coronavirus cases, if any occur. Health care providers as a habit tend to keep abreast of international disease trends.
“Obviously, we’ve had some experience with these events before,” Leyden said. “The closer analogous outbreaks are SARS and measles, (and) the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that involved a lot of returning travelers to the United States.
In the meantime, he urged residents to seek out only reputable sources of information about the disease. The two most trustworthy outlets in this case are the CDC (cdc.gov) and the Vermont Department of Health (healthvermont.gov), according to Leyden.
“One of the enemies of managing and responding to outbreaks … or if it were to rise to a pandemic level, is misinformation,” Leyden said. “That can drive fear and panic.”
As reported last Thursday by the Independent, Middlebury College has suspended its study abroad program in China in wake of the coronavirus spread in that nation.
“We have plans to meet with the college in the coming week to touch base with preparedness and alignment of approach and programs, as we did with issues around measles and other things,” Leyden said.
What can folks do to lessen their chances of contracting the coronavirus? Leyden offered these tips: Wash your hands frequently, don’t travel to China, stay at home if you’re not feeling well, and seek medical attention if you’re showing flu or pneumonia-type symptoms. And stay informed.
“We’re also approaching the peak flu season, and we have regular colds out there,” Leyden said. “The foundational message is, from a public health perspective, to wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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