As the spread of a new disease continues to occupy the nation’s attention, local officials are working to educate and reassure residents.

“We have to take it seriously — we live in a global world,” said Cynthia Tiblow. “In a matter of 12 hours you can be from China to Kansas City. So no matter what the situation, you have to be aware.”

Tiblow is the director of infection prevention at AdventHealth Ottawa, one of the many Franklin County entities working to maintain a state of readiness in the region amid rising reports of novel coronavirus, a new strain of a known virus that has resulted in 9,800 cases and caused 200 deaths worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced earlier this week it is investigating a possible case of novel coronavirus in Douglas County. KHDE officials said the patient returned to the United States within the past two weeks after being in Wuhan City, China, the location where the outbreak of the coronavirus started in December 2019. Specimens from the patient have been sent to the CDC, and results will likely be returned this weekend.

Ottawa University administration contacted students and staff with an update earlier this week, reporting the school has canceled a planned faculty trip to China and is continuing to monitor the situation carefully.

“I have asked key leadership to prepare plans in the event that this becomes a much bigger problem than it currently is for the security and health of our students, faculty, and employees as well as our vendors and friends,” said Kevin Eichner, OU chancellor. “We are considering our options for how to continue educating our students via Blackboard and online in the unlikely event that we might have to cancel face to face classes, meetings, and the like.”


Signs and precautions

The 2019 novel coronavirus spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to KDHE officials. Symptoms typically appear within two to 14 days after exposure and consist of fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing. Individuals considered to be at risk are those who have traveled to Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, or those who have been in contact with a person infected by the coronavirus.

Fortunately, the disease presents a very low risk to Franklin County residents.

“As of this date, the risk of transmission in the United States is extremely low,” said Midge Ransom, Franklin County Health Department director, said in a recent release. “Wash your hands frequently, cover your cough, and standard cleaning precautions to reduce the spread of all diseases.”

Ransom and Tiblow also recommend taking this time to get a flu shot, as influenza represents a statistically greater threat to residents than coronavirus at this time.

“We've had 54 pediatric deaths — and so far 8,200 total deaths — from influenza just this year,” Tiblow said. “That makes it scarier to me. Even though coronavirus is serious, influenza is still scarier at this time.”