Coronavirus: Local Experts on What You Need to Know

Mar 5, 2020

On Primary Election day, Governor Roy Cooper announced the first preliminary case of the coronavirus or COVID-19. As of Thursday, March 5th, the number of cases in the U.S. is 100, with a total of 10 deaths. It’s now in thirteen states. WHQR reports on how local scientists and doctors are preparing for its spread…

Art Frampton is a virologist and an associate professor at UNCW. He’s currently teaching a senior seminar course – and the topic for this semester is ‘emerging viruses’.

He says your risk of COVID-19 depends on your age and health:

"The good news is that most healthy immunocompetent individuals, those that are relatively healthy, even if you get infected, you're going to have mild or even no symptoms at all and are going to recover just fine. But the bad news is the death rate associated with COVID-19 increases with age and people who have preexisting conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or anybody whose immune system is compromised. And so those folks need to be taking precautions maybe more than folks that are younger and healthier."

With regard to infants, Frampton says there’s good news – they’re recovering very well, though the scientific community is unsure why.

Frampton also adds healthy people should think twice before they buy protective masks:

"80% or so that are infected are going to have mild or no symptoms. So if you take that into consideration, there's really no need to wear masks, unless you're a healthcare professional that are working with these patients that are sick with a virus or if you're somebody that's immunocompromised or elderly. We are seeing shortages. I was in Walgreens the other day and she told me they'd been out for three weeks, so people have been hoarding these masks. It could be problematic because if that leads to shortages for healthcare workers and those that really need them."

So how are local hospitals and medical professionals preparing – and do they have tests for COVID-19 available?

Dr. Paul Kamitsuka is an infectious disease consultant at Wilmington Health: 

"The state public health lab here in North Carolina did receive test kits, so are up and running to be able to test. And again, any positive results from that lab at this point are preliminary. They would need to then be sent for confirmation to the CDC. Now there's a lot of activities to try to get that ready for us in practices around the country. There are at least three different companies that are working on the test. But I think that the reality is that being able to test locally around the United States will not be a reality for at least probably a month or two."

Dr. Kamitsuka says so far it’s hard to tell how fast virus could spread in North Carolina, because there isn’t enough diagnostic testing around the country.

He also says it’s prudent for people to avoid crowds, and -- most importantly:

"The worst thing that people can do is panic. Think about this as like a bad flu and like the flu that we see year after year, it can be contagious. And so we have to follow a prudent guidelines to protect ourselves and others."

The Centers for Disease Control say some of the best defenses against the virus are staying home when you’re sick – and avoiding people with symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

There are no current vaccines or antiviral drugs for COVID-19.

Resources and information on the coronavirus:

WHO

CDC -- and follow the number of cases

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

New Hanover County Health Department

Brunswick County Health Department 

NHRMC