February 12, 2020

Town, University Cautiously Monitor Evolving Global Coronavirus Threat

By Donald Gilpin

As the epidemic death toll from the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) continues to climb — 1,016 by the end of Monday and more than 43,000 sick, in China mostly but also in 24 other countries — Princeton authorities urge caution and focus on preparedness for whatever might be the next development.

“As of February 11, there are currently no cases in New Jersey,” stated Princeton Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser. “The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is stating that the risk to the general public in the United States at this time is low. The CDC is working diligently to identify any new cases in the United States, and when they do, they take every precaution to prevent further illness from spreading.”

Grosser noted that eleven U.S airports, including Newark, had implemented entrance screening to identify passengers from China who may be ill. As of Monday, the CDC had reported 13 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in the U.S.

Warning of the spread of the virus, Grosser went on to state that “as surveillance continues, it is expected more cases will be identified. With that said, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is monitoring the situation closely and is proactively preparing guidance documents for public health and health care professionals to be able to effectively respond to any cases that may be identified in the state.”

He added, “The Princeton Health Department is actively communicating guidance and recommendations to health care providers to ensure the quickly evolving situation is understood by everyone that is a key partner in this situation.”

The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the proposed official name for 2019-nCoV is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. The death toll from 2019-nCoV has surpassed the 774 deaths from the SARS epidemic, which lasted from November 2002 to July 2003.

Grosser pointed out that the CDC, with travel information specific to the new coronavirus on its website, has recommended avoiding non-essential travel to China. Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province. Grosser urged Princeton residents who have recently traveled from or are planning to travel to China to avoid contact with sick people; avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products; wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

Grosser added that older travelers and those with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to China with their health care providers.

At Princeton University, University Health Services last week completed comprehensive assessments of nearly 150 members of the University community who had been in China in the previous 14 days.

“Based on that assessment, they are not required to self-quarantine and can follow their normal daily routines on campus and elsewhere,” wrote Vice Provost for International Affairs and Operations Aly Kassam-Remtulla, University Health Services Infectious Disease Physician Irini Daskalaki, and Environmental Health and Safety Executive Director Robin Izzo in a statement to the community.

They continued, “Importantly, none of these people are sick or have reported any symptoms consistent with coronavirus.” Princeton University, the writers emphasized, has been following federal and state government guidance, “including from the New Jersey Department of Health, with whom we are in constant contact.”

Moving forward, University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said that the University was continuing to monitor the situation carefully and “waiting to see what happens in the rest of the world.”

Acknowledging students’ concerns, particularly those of students returning to campus from China, Hotchkiss stated, “Our priority at all times has been to protect the health and well-being of all members of the University community. We have been fortunate that no member of the University community has been sick or had symptoms consistent with the coronavirus infection, although we have been ready to deal with this possibility using evidence-based public health and infection control methods while caring for the sick individuals.”