More than 600 Massachusetts residents who traveled to China have been self-quarantined at home and monitored for the novel coronavirus, state public health officials revealed Wednesday.
So far 377 have completed the quarantine without illness and 231 are still being monitored, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said. Only one person — a Boston student — contracted the illness, and he is recovering well in isolation at home, Bharel said.
The quarantines are voluntary and last 14 days. People have been very cooperative in staying home, communicating regularly with their local health departments, and taking their temperature daily, she said.
The numbers were provided for the first time in a telephone press briefing Wednesday. Previously, health officials have said they would only discuss confirmed cases.
On the call, held in response to federal officials’ statements Tuesday urging people to prepare for the virus’s likely spread in United States, Bharel offered repeated assurances that Massachusetts is ready to handle an outbreak of the new coronavirus, known as Covid-19.
“We want you to know that Massachusetts is prepared for this potential outbreak,” Bharel said.
She emphasized that the risk of coronavirus in Massachusetts "remains low."
Bharel said the state currently has the funds and staffing it needs to “continue our in-depth preparation" and was “in daily communication with our federal partners, as well as our regional and local partners."
Officials said that to prevent any virus people are advised to take many of the same steps they do to help prevent the flu, including:
—Washing hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds;
—Covering coughs and sneezes;
—Staying home from work when you feel sick.
Bharel urged people to stay updated by checking the department’s coronavirus website for the latest information and advice.
Public health officials say that the steps they are taking to prepare include:
—Communicating daily with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Health and Human Services, and other federal and regional agencies to discuss the latest guidance and recommendations;
— Instituting a streamlined organizational system that will facilitate information-sharing, decisionmaking, and responses during a potential outbreak;
— Keeping partners informed, including local boards of health, school health personnel, emergency medical services, college and university health systems, and health emergency preparedness teams;
— Engaging Massachusetts hospitals and health system leadership by providing clinical and infection control prevention guidance and supporting their surge planning procedures and protocols;
— Disseminating guidance and recommendations to school superintendents, charter school leaders, and principals throughout the state;
— Monitoring impacts to the supply chain of personal protective equipment such as gloves, face masks, and other equipment within the US and providing hospitals and health systems with strategies to optimize these supplies;
— Continuing efforts by the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory staff and epidemiologic staff to perform surveillance of potential cases and contacts and respond to questions from clinicians, health departments, and the public; and
— Working with local public health authorities in accordance with federal guidance regarding travelers returning to the US.
“We’re preparing for whatever comes our way here in Massachusetts,” Bharel said.