Published Feb. 6, 2020
BETHESDA, Md. — While there has been no known impact of the novel coronavirus in Indian Country, the Indian Health Service told Native News Online on Wednesday, “we must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent the introduction and spread of infections among our patients and within the communities we serve.”
Last Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the United States to assist the nation’s healthcare community in responding to the novel coronavirus that has made its way to the country from China.
As of Wednesday, there have been 12 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States, including one in Wisconsin. In the U.S. there have been no deaths, but there have been more than 560 in China, where the deadly virus was first discovered.
“The IHS will continue to follow our normal policies and procedures for evaluation and treatment of respiratory illnesses. We are asking patients who are presenting with flu-like illness if they have traveled recently as a means to determine their risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. If a patient comes under evaluation for novel coronavirus infection, IHS would coordinate with local, state, and/or tribal public health departments immediately. Currently, diagnostic testing is only available through the CDC through coordination with local, state, and/or tribal public health authorities,” wrote an IHS official in an email to Native News Online.
The IHS mandates all of its healthcare employees receive an annual influenza vaccination and encourages them to stay home from work if they are sick.
While this situation poses a very serious public health threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public continues to be low at this time, according to the IHS email.
However, the email continued: “This is a rapidly evolving situation, and information is likely to become dated quickly. We also encourage everyone to periodically review CDC’s novel coronavirus outbreak webpage for the most recent information, including targeted healthcare provider guidance.”