CDC COVID-19 illustration

A RENDERING created by the Centers for Disease Control shows the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Christian County’s top officials agree, they will continue to monitor the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s no time to panic.

Officials from the Christian County Health Department, Christian County Emergency Management Agency and emergency response groups like police departments, fire protection districts and the Christian County Ambulance District are in communication daily about the coronavirus.

“’Cautious’ is definitely the correct word we want to use. The main thing we want to encourage everyone is just to be calm about this and not to get into that panic mode,” Christian County Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Linda Barger said.

As of March 12, there have been two presumptive positive coronavirus diagnoses in Missouri, a young woman who likely contracted the virus on a trip to Italy who then returned to her home in St. Louis, approximately 230 miles from Ozark. A second case, this one in neighboring Greene County, was announced by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on March 12.

The Christian County Commission hosted a meeting of elected officials and health officials on the morning of March 12 to discuss the county government’s operations in the midst of what is now classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

Christian County Health Department Administrator Cindy Bilyeu said her office encourages Christian County residents to take precautions, like they would during a normal cold and flu season.

“What our big emphasis is right now is, ‘Do what you always do, but do it better,’” Bilyeu said.

Bilyeu encourages all Christian County residents to pay attention to their hand-washing habits, and to check the products they are using to clean and disinfect themselves and frequently touched objects and surfaces. 

“One of the big shocks for me this week we have a disinfectant over at the health department that will kill HIV, hepatitis, a large number of things,” Bilyeu said. However, after reading the fine print on the disinfectant, it was found to be ineffective against the coronavirus.

“Everybody needs to check to see what they are using,” Bilyeu said. “We’ve got this crazy stuff that we can’t just go to the store and buy, but actually, Lysol is No. 1.”

EPA-registered antimicrobial disinfecting products will have information on their labels indicating their EPA registration. Lysol and Clorox are among the most common brands, and the products are typically available as solutions sprays or in concentrates. Bilyeu said the Christian County Health Department has been using concentrate and mixing its own disinfectant for its Ozark office.

“They say that the virus can live anywhere from a few hours to several days on contact surfaces, and it’s all variant on temperature, weather, how big the exposure was, and so there is so much that is not known at this point. It changes not daily, but hourly,” Bilyeu said.

Similar precautions are being taken in Christian County’s three courthouse buildings, where maintenance staff has been regularly cleaning and disinfecting offices, courtrooms and public spaces.

“We just can’t stop life because this is going on, and so we just want to encourage calmness. We are doing what we can to prepare by meeting with the health department on a regular basis, keeping up with the data that’s coming out,” Barger said. “People are wanting a fix, you know? And there is no fix. Just live your life, do what you’re doing but take those precautions that you need to take.”

The Christian County Emergency Management Agency also recommends that people stay out of the public if they are ill, whether they have the flu or something else.

“Be smart about it. If you’ve been sick, stay out of those large crowds, just use common sense,” Barger said.

National and worldwide response

Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained the national health organization’s response to the coronavirus in the face of criticism and stigma, and the potential fear it can cause.

“Risk can be looked at in two ways. There is risk of being exposed and getting sick from this virus and there is risk of getting very sick or dying from illness with this virus.  This virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person based on the available data,” Messonnier said.

The World Health Organization puts the death rate for persons in the United States diagnosed with COVID-19 at about 4 percent.

“The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years,” Messonnier said. “People with serious underlying health conditions also are more likely to develop serious outcomes including death. The people who are at greatest risk are those older and who also have serious long-term health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease.”

The coronavirus is spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing or sneezing, through close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands, through touching an object or surface that is contaminated with respiratory droplets from an infected person, and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

If you have been in contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you have recently traveled to an area with widespread or ongoing spread of the coronavirus and you develop symptoms of COVID-19, which are fever, cough and shortness of breath, call a health care professional.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces each day. These can include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, keyboards, toilets, sinks and faucets. The CDC recommends cleaning dirty surfaces with detergent or soap and water, and then using a disinfectant.

“The point of these is to reduce exposures, reduce illness which in turn can protect our most vulnerable,” Messonnier said. “But it’s also a strategy to keep workplaces up and running though on a modified basis. Government officials and public health departments will make decisions based on local conditions at the time. We urge you to follow their lead.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services advises persons who have been notified by public health authorities that they have been exposed to COVID-19, that they should follow all instructions provided by their local health authority.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, explained COVID-19’s classification as a global pandemic in a speech he delivered March 12.

“We have made this assessment for two main reasons: first, because of the speed and scale of transmission,” Tedros sad. “Almost 125,000 cases have now been reported to WHO, from 118 countries and territories. In the past two weeks, the number of cases reported outside China has increased almost 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has almost tripled.”

The second reason for the declaration, he said, was to encourage a more deliberate response to a “controllable pandemic.”

“The second reason is that despite our frequent warnings, we are deeply concerned that some countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it,” Tedros sad. 

COVID-19 Fast Facts

COVID-19 symptoms

(According to the Centers for Disease Control)

-Fever

-Cough

-Shortness of breath

How to protect yourself from COVID-19

(Tips from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services)

-Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time.

-Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

-Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

-Reduce close contact with others.

-When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Immediately throw away the tissue and wash your hands.

-Clean and disinfect objects and/or surfaces using EPA-registered antimicrobial disinfecting products. Such products will have an EPA registration number on the label.

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