Health Experts Address Coronavirus Fears
UWM School of Public Health hosted a forum, and local experts remain optimistic while planning for a worst-case scenario
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health hosted a forum, “What We Know and What We Need to Consider,” on Wednesday at its off-campus facility within the former Pabst Brewery complex.
The panel discussion coincidentally occurred on the same date the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, had been reported in California and could represent the first instance within the U.S. of it spreading within the general population.
Currently, the World Health Organization has reported, via its dashboard, more than 82,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Of those, 2,812 confirmed deaths linked to the outbreak have been reported.
While the road ahead locally, nationally and globally is uncertain, and the possibility of an outbreak in Milwaukee is not out of the question, panelists at Wednesday’s event expressed optimism that the newest strain of the Coronavirus would ultimately be eradicated.
Sanjib Bhattacharyya, laboratory director and special deputy health commissioner with the Milwaukee Health Department, said research and protocol have improved since the swine flu, the widespread virus that had a ripple effect more than a decade ago.
“Our preparedness is more robust,” Bhattacharyya said. “We are confident we have a more robust system in place, but that does not mean the system is foolproof.”
While Wednesday’s announcement in California raises new concerns about the spread of the Novel Coronavirus across the U.S., containing people with confirmed cases is still viewed as the best means of getting a handle on it, said Julie Katrichis, director of clinical operations with the Milwaukee Health Department.
“The risk is related to the exposure,” Katrichis said. “We’re doing a good job of containing it.”
Attendees asked the panel about a number of hypothetical scenarios and preparedness tips during a question-and-answer session.
Because new information is coming out on an almost daily basis, Nathan Ledeboer, professor and vice chair of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, encouraged people to have an adaptive mindset in terms of daily life in Milwaukee and traveling.
“As this situation is evolving, you’re going to have to be flexible,” Ledeboer said. “Know what your personal health risk is when you’re traveling.”
The preparedness of Milwaukee’s hospitals and other health care facilities also was a topic discussed throughout Wednesday’s event.
Ledeboer said coordination between different area facilities will be an important means of addressing Novel Coronavirus, particularly if the outbreak is widespread. “Training is so critical,” he said.
In a worst-case scenario, Katrichis said local facilities could have different screening levels, with Froedtert Hospital likely taking on the more serious incidents. “But we are expecting all of our healthcare facilities to at least screen,” she said.
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