BOX ELDER COUNTY – By Marcia Wendorf – Feb. 29, 2020
The Covid-19 virus, otherwise known as coronavirus, has been wreaking havoc across the world since late December 2019 but just this week Utah has officially addressed this issue and Box Elder County does have a plan in place.
On Feb. 26, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first U.S. case of the disease with no known cause, describing it as “community spread.”
Looking for Box Elder County’s response to Covid-19 and what the community was doing to prepare for the disease, Mark Millet, Box Elder County’s Emergency Manager, stated a plan is in place if the virus arrives locally.
Millet said that currently, there are “zero issues with the virus here in Box Elder County.” He also added that a meeting was held last week to discuss planning for a possible outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
That meeting included representatives from Emergency Medical Services (EMS), area hospitals, and the Bear River Health Department – the organization that will have the ultimate responsibility for handling a possible outbreak.
Millet said that that plans had been created to address area nursing homes and hospitals, and he described the overall response to the disease as being a “tiered response.”
That means that the various counties will work with the Utah Department of Health, who will work with federal entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who in turn will work with international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
Millet described how an individual's risk to the disease would be assessed, based on their recent travel history and if they were symptomatic. Anyone who showed symptoms would be quarantined at home.
Millet said that the state already has a plan for quarantining a large number of people, if necessary. In the past, Camp Williams in the southwest corner of Salt Lake County has housed those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
How important is wearing a face mask in public?
“Masks are really good in certain situations and not so good in other situations,” said Millet.
Millet said he wouldn't recommend wearing a mask because, “they put a load on your respiratory system,” and he said the most appropriate use of a mask would be by those experiencing symptoms who went to a hospital. Wearing a mask would protect people that the patient came into contact with.
Overall, Millet said that what would be required during an outbreak is, “good solid preparedness. Like any other disaster, we encourage people to be prepared. We as individuals have an obligation to be personally prepared. In these [emergency] situations, government is limited in what it can do to make people whole.”
Keith Larsen, Head of Emergency Services for the Bear River Health Department, said that, “to date no one was showing signs of the virus in the three Northern Utah counties of Box Elder, Cache and Rich.”
He also put the virus into perspective, saying that, “influenza will kill 20,000 to 40,000 people this year, but there are only 15 cases [of Covid-19] in the U.S., and only two of them were through person-to-person contact.”
Larsen described “close contact” as occurring when people were less than six feet from one another.
“The Health Department has authority to enforce quarantine, but that 99% of the time, people are motivated to quarantine themselves,” Larsen said. He stressed that quarantine is a legal process and that people's constitutional rights must be protected.
As far as stockpiling food and medicine.
“It's always advisable to store food in your home in case of earthquake, hazmat spill, or disease,” Larsen said. “Certainly, we want people to be prepared.”
Larsen reiterated that the best way to keep you and your family safe is to, “wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you're sick, and get a flu shot.”
On Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, The Utah Department of Health held a press conference to discuss the state’s response to the Covid-19 virus. UDOH Executive Director Joseph Miner said that Utah had tested 12 people for the virus, but none had tested positive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 15 cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. The CDC is recommending that people postpone travel to China and South Korea, and that older people avoid travel to Italy, Iran and Japan as well.
That same day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the postponement of some leadership meetings related to general conference in April.
The Church is also discouraging those planning to attend general conference from outside the U.S. from traveling.