In lieu of the World Health Organization's declaration on Thursday that the new coronavirus outbreak is a world health emergency, health officials at the local and state levels continue to monitor the situation despite currently showing no confirmed cases of the virus in the state.

As of Thursday afternoon, the State Health Operations Center (SHOC) in Frankfort, Kentucky raised the state's status to a Level 4 (monitoring) in support of ongoing activities related to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak.

Health officials at the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), are watchful for potential cases within the state and are actively investigating any reports, but Kentucky is not currently reporting any cases of the illness at this time, nor are there any suspected cases, according to a press release.

The Grayson County Health Department and Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center continue to observe the new coronavirus situation, as well. 

“At this time, the local health department is working with the Kentucky Department of Public Health," said Grayson County Public Health Director Joshua Embry in a statement. "We are more concerned with the flu, as 30 people in the state have died from flu-related complications. The coronavirus, per the state, is not a high risk threat at this time. The health department will continue to monitor the situation for changes."

In an email circulated among Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center's employees earlier this month, TLRMC Director of Infection Prevention Krissy Logsdon explained the symptoms of the virus and offered tips for how to prevent it from spreading.

According to Logsdon, coronavirus is spread in a similar fashion as the flu virus and can cause severe respiratory distress and pneumonia.

"Symptoms are similar to that of the common cold or the flu; these include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and a general feeling of being unwell," she writes. "All of these symptoms are very common this time of the year."

The coronavirus can be transmitted through the air by coughing or sneezing; close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; touching objects or surfaces with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands; and, very rarely, via fecal contamination, according to Logsdon.

"Good hand hygiene is the number one way to decrease the spread of infection," Logsdon said.

DPH Deputy Commissioner for Clinical Affairs Dr. Connie White said the new coronavirus outbreak is a very serious public health situation, and it is being carefully monitored at federal, state and local levels to ensure the public’s health and safety.

“We understand that some people are worried about this virus and how it may impact Kentuckians," White said. "Outbreaks of new diseases are always of concern, and with today’s connected world, an outbreak anywhere can be a risk. While the available information suggests a low immediate health risk for the general public, we consider any new infectious disease a serious concern, and we are carefully monitoring the evolving situation and taking precautions. Currently the biggest risk we have in Kentucky now for respiratory illness is the flu, which has resulted in 30 deaths so far this season. So we highly encourage everyone who has not received a flu shot to get vaccinated.”

DPH is working closely with clinicians to make sure providers are aware of and informed about the illness. In addition, DPH wants to ensure providers there is a process in place to determine whether testing is warranted, including consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as needed.

“Based on what has been learned from past outbreaks – including outbreaks of related coronaviruses – finding cases quickly and responding effectively is key,” White said. “Rapid response helps ensure that the ill person receives the care they need, and it lessens the chance of spreading the illness. Fortunately, Kentucky has a strong disease surveillance system in place that includes partnerships with hospital and clinic systems as well as local health departments.”

DPH staff sent an advisory to clinicians statewide on Jan. 22 to update them on the coronavirus and provide guidance on symptoms to look for and actions to take if they think they have a possible case. Health care providers were also asked to alert DPH if a person with recent travel to Wuhan, China, becomes sick with respiratory symptoms. When cases are reported, laboratory samples are collected and submitted to the CDC for confirmatory testing, which can take several days.

“When a new disease is circulating, it’s natural for people to ask what they can do to protect themselves and their families,” White said. “The best guidance at this point is to take the same precautions recommended for avoiding colds and flu: People should stay home when they are sick, cover their cough, and practice good hand washing. If you are planning a trip to China, keep an eye on the news and be aware of this evolving situation. If you have recently returned from a trip to China and are feeling sick, call your health care provider and let them know of your travel and symptoms.”

For more information on the 2019 novel coronavirus, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.