So far, Virginia has seen no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
But state agencies are gearing up and keeping track of people at increased risk for contracting the disease.
Working with hospitals around the state, Virginia’s Department of Health is the lead agency in preparing for the arrival of COVID-19, but Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran says almost every agency will be involved in some way if the disease comes to Virginia.
Already, Moran says, planning is underway – based on preparations for other possible epidemics like flu, SARS, MERS and ebola. “During the McAuliffe administration with an international airport we were all concerned that victims of ebola would be arriving in Virginia, and we had plans then, so it’s matter of dusting off the plans. We’ve be working on this for several weeks, once we became aware of the outbreak in China.”
At this point no cases have been confirmed, but the state is monitoring 100 people who are at increased risk, and Moran advises everyone to be careful. “Wash the hands. If you’re not feeling well don’t come to work. Try not to spread the illness.”
In state prisons, he adds, special precautions will be taken, since contagious disease can spread rapidly through institutions. “They do have procedures in place -- a lot of hygiene. We’ll institute additional protocols with respect to cleanliness and try to minimize contact as much as possible in our prisons," Moran says. "I don’t want to tell people there’s no visitation at this point, but that is a protocol that we may have to implement, as this is a dynamic situation, and we’re monitoring it by the hour.”
Moran said visitation could be canceled if there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 in the general population.
Virginia’s public health lab is now conducting its own testing for COVID-19. The Department of General Services says two samples of suspected COVID-19 were tested over the weekend. Both turned out negative.
Previously, testing had to be conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and it could take up to a week to get the results. The state lab can do the same test and report the result in hours.