No coronavirus case in the CNMI

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The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. has confirmed that a case it investigated last Friday turned out to be just a regular flu case and was not a possible novel coronavirus case (2019-nCoV).

According to a CHCC statement, five patients were seen at the Commonwealth Health Center Friday morning who were exhibiting symptoms reminiscent of 2019-nCoV and who had recently traveled to an affected area. However, all five patients’ illnesses were confirmed to be the flu and not 2019-nCoV.

In a short interview with Jeremy Sasamoto, CHCC’s Department of Public Health immunization program manager, he said the rumor may have gotten started when a group of Asian individuals in face masks entered CHC.

Health workers who attended to the patients later said that the group was seeking treatment for what they suspected was 2019-nCoV. Word later spread through the hospital and reached the public within hours.

Although only the Center of Disease Control and Prevention can screen for 2019-nCoV, CHC is capable of determining, through tests, if a virus is just a normal flu virus.

The CHCC statement assured that medical protective masks are not needed to be worn when entering CHC and CHCC will alert the public if any precautions such as this need to be taken by staff or the public.

“If there is a case of significance within the CNMI, you can be assured that CHCC will notify the community,” said CHCC spokesperson Zoe Travis.

Separately, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres called for a meeting yesterday with officials from CHCC, Commonwealth Ports Authority, Marianas Visitors Authority, CNMI Division of Customs, Department of Public Safety, Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to discuss the ongoing surveillance of coronavirus, which has caused a public health emergency in China.

“When the news broke of the coronavirus, the CNMI increased locally-driven airport surveillance protocol, in which we observe and identify suspected travelers from China and the Asia region and implement follow-up questionnaires and mitigate any transmission on island. Contrary to rumors, we do not have any cases of coronavirus in the CNMI,” said Torres. “The CNMI is the first place in the Pacific to implement this approach, which is accomplished in partnership with CHCC, Customs, and CBP.”

The World Health Organization does not consider this to be a global public health emergency yet, but Torres said the CNMI has already “taken active measures” to be prepared.

Torres wants to assure the community that CHCC has been working hand-in-hand with CPA, Customs, and CBP in screening travelers to assess potential signs and symptoms before leaving the plane.

“As we continue to receive information from the WHO and CDC, we will make a formal determination with our tourism and airline partners on all flights from the Asia region,” he said.

Torres says that public health is the CNMI’s No. 1 priority and CHCC and the CNMI’s first responders have confirmed that they are prepared and continue to strengthen response plans.

“This is not a moment for panic or alarm. It is a moment for being vigilant and to continue following proper hygiene for yourselves and your families,” Torres said.

CHCC continues to advise all residents to maintain healthy hygienic practices and wash their hands to avoid leaving germs in areas commonly used by family members or the public.

For anyone who has traveled to Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, or any of the affected areas, or have been in close contact with an infected individual from any of these areas, and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical care right away.

CHCC would also like to advise the public, before going to the doctor’s office or emergency room for suspected coronavirus symptoms, to call ahead and tell them about recent travels and symptoms.

CDC has already confirmed two cases in the United States: first in Seattle and the second in Chicago. WHO and CDC continue to monitor the outbreak and will continue to assist state and territorial health agencies around the country.

For more information, contact the CHCC PHEP surveillance unit at (670) 234-8950. For more information about CHCC programs, follow CHCC on Facebook and Twitter or check out their website at www.chcc.gov.mp.

Kimberly Bautista | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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