ASTORIA — With an eye toward international ships that routinely cross the Pacific between Asia and a few Columbia River ports, some localities are actively considering what to do if a sometimes-deadly new infection arrives here.
Clatsop County said in a Feb. 21 press release that its personnel are monitoring the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, including the potential risk from maritime activity, in cooperation with state and federal partners.
In Washington state, as of Feb. 25 health officials were keeping an eye on 438 people who might have come into contact with coronavirus. But there is only one confirmed case in the state — the Snohomish County man who returned from China with the virus and became the first person in the U.S. infected with the disease. He has since recovered. Twenty-seven other individuals have been tested for the virus, with 26 coming back negative and one still pending.
Pacific County receives no international shipping and so has little reason to expect contact with the novel coronavirus unless it becomes much more widespread.
Both the Clatsop County Public Health Department and Emergency Management Division have reviewed the Maritime Communicable Disease Response Plan, or “sick ship” standard operating procedures, which are aimed at preventing the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases from a passenger or crew member with a diagnosed or suspected infectious disease onboard a vessel.
The Maritime Communicable Disease Response Plan spells out the respective duties of multiple agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Oregon Health Authority, local public health department and local healthcare facilities in identifying and handling persons who may be carrying a communicable illness.
Under the plan, all ships destined for U.S. ports are required by law to report to the nearest CDC station about anyone on board displaying symptoms. Coast Guard crews based in Ilwaco, Astoria and Warrenton normally are the first responders when an incoming vessel reports an individual with a serious ailment or injury. Under the new plan, CDC personnel would lead the response investigation if there is a suspicion of coronavirus.
As the lead local communicable disease authority, the Clatsop County Public Health Department works closely with local hospitals, clinics and medical providers, who are required by law to report cases of communicable diseases — those conditions that can be spread to others through air, touch, or contact with contaminated body fluids.
People infected with coronavirus report mild to severe respiratory illness much like the common cold with symptoms including fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually start 2-14 days after exposure. Infection with the coronavirus may lead to more severe respiratory illness like bronchitis or pneumonia which can be life-threatening for some people. People at highest risk for life-threatening complications include infants, the elderly, people who already have other cardiopulmonary disease, and those with weakened immune systems.
If you are experiencing symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and you have reason to believe you may have been exposed to the coronavirus (through recent travel or through contact with someone infected with coronavirus) you should call your health care provider. Your provider will work with local public health departments and the CDC to determine if any additional testing is needed.