While there have yet to be any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, there have nonetheless been fears of what an outbreak would mean for the state. Lucio Bitoy, from Columbia and Boone County Public Health and Human Services says his department is on a weekly call with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and advises people take the usual pre-cautions that they would to avoid the flu.
In an email, the department said it had learned from the H1N1 outbreak of 2009 that its partnerships with community health providers and non-profits are important in responding to outbreaks, and that plans need to be fluid and adaptable to succeed.
Bitoy: The situation with COVID-19 is still relatively new and there are some unknowns with it. So that's kind of what I would imagine it is contributing to some of the fear about it, because fear of the unknown is a very real thing, especially when it comes to health and wellness. But it is a situation that is being monitored and planned for at the federal, state and local level, both by government institutions and your local public health infrastructure. I would really want to impart to anyone listening that there's no cause for panic, you don't need to start buying all the water you can find and stuff like that. Just really listen to your body, stay home if you're sick right now. From the last that I've seen about 80% of the people who have contracted coronavirus have had the milder symptoms and have recovered on their own within two weeks
Health and Wealth: If somebody thinks that they're presenting symptoms, maybe they traveled recently, and they're concerned that they may have it. What should a person do?
Bitoy: If someone is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, it is recommended that they contact their local health provider, their preferred health provider and explain the situation to them so that the health care provider can make proper accommodations for them. Because if they do have something, then they don't want them to just come in randomly and potentially infect others.
HW: Have you been in touch with providers in the area and been coordinating at all?
Bitoy: Yes. The public health and human services have regular communications with local partners from healthcare institutions, universities, nonprofits, local businesse, just to make sure that the information that we have that will be pertinent and helpful to residents is free flowing and that we're kind of comparing notes so that we're all creating a united front.
HW: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to avoid exposing themselves to this?
Bitoy: There is currently no vaccines to prevent COVID-19. So the best way to prevent the illness is to avoid being exposed to it and for that, the recommendations are similar to many other respiratory illnesses. So it's recommended that you avoid close contact with those who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Stay home when you're sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, throw the tissue away and disinfect your hands clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using household cleaning sprays or wipes.
HW: This weekend we have a ton of people coming to Columbia from all over for the True/False Film Festival; a lot of people sitting in the same rooms together. Has there been any preparation for that or any planning?
Bitoy: I know that representatives from True/False have been in contact with staff from our department. And we are providing recommendations on how to kind of best mitigate potential transmission of any respiratory illness not specifically COVID-19.
HW: Are there resources that you can suggest for people who want to learn more about the disease?
Bitoy: The CDC - they provide the most reliable and up to date information on COVID-19. You can also visit the Public Health and Human Services website. We actually just launched a page today that will give all the most up to date information that we have available as well as some infographics and things like that for individuals who are just looking to learn more and to put people at ease and know that this is something that is being monitored closely and planned for and prepared for.