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The coronavirus and Virginia: Here's what you need to know

RICHMOND — The coronavirus outbreak across the world has come to Virginia. State health officials are announcing cases every day, including three on Tuesday.

“The Virginia Department of Health, hospitals, and health care providers statewide continue to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth,” Dr. M. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, said in a statement. “Through a strategic, coordinated, statewide response, the commonwealth is well-prepared to respond to positive COVID-19 cases as they occur.”

Here are answers to some common questions about the outbreak.

» What is the coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illness in animals and humans. The most recently discovered coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, in December, and the illness it causes is called COVID-19.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency. The number of cases in the U.S. was 647 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the CDC, with more than 113,000 (and an estimated 4,000 deaths) across the world.

» What are the symptoms?

COVID-19 can produce flulike symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. Older people are more susceptible to the virus.

Four in five people recover from the disease without needing special treatment, according to the World Health Organization. Older people and people with underlying medical problems — high blood pressure or diabetes, for example — are more likely to develop serious illness.

» How does it spread?

The virus spreads mostly through respiratory droplets produced when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

» What is the incubation period?

Symptoms appear, according to the CDC, within 14 days of someone being exposed to an infectious person.

» What preventive steps can you take?

The Virginia Department of Health suggests the following:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick (the WHO says to stay 3 feet away from someone who is sick).

Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you can’t do that, use hand sanitizer.

If you’re sick, stay home.

Make sure you cover your mouth and nose — not with your hands — when coughing or sneezing.

Avoid nonessential travel.

Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The CDC says to talk to your employer about their emergency operations plan, including sick leave policies and telework options.

» What should you do if you think you’re showing symptoms?

The CDC recommends doing the following if you are sick:

Stay home, except to get medical care. Stay in a specific room and away from other people, and use a separate bathroom if possible. Don’t handle pets or other animals.

Call ahead before your doctor’s appointment and tell them that you may have the coronavirus. This will help the doctor take steps to make sure other people aren’t exposed.

Wear a face mask (if you are sick).

Similar to the preventive steps, cover your coughs and sneezes (not with your hands), wash your hands often, and clean “high-touch” items often. The CDC also suggests not sharing dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding.

» How many cases of the coronavirus are there in Virginia?

There are eight “presumptive positive” cases in the state. That means a patient has received a positive result for the virus, but it hasn’t been confirmed by the CDC.

» What are the circumstances of those cases?

Case 1, announced Saturday: A Marine who is assigned to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County and “recently returned from overseas where he was on official business,” according to the Pentagon.

Case 2, announced Sunday: A Fairfax City resident in their 80s who had traveled internationally (a Nile River cruise other patients have gone on).

Case 3, announced Monday: An Arlington County resident in their 60s who had traveled internationally.

Case 4, announced Monday: A Fairfax City woman who is the spouse of the person whose case was announced Sunday.

Case 5, announced Monday: A Spotsylvania County resident in their 50s who developed a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Cases 6 and 7, announced Tuesday: A Virginia Beach couple — a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s — who had gone on a Nile River cruise, which has reported other cases. The couple returned to the U.S. on March 5 and they were tested March 8.

Case 8, announced Tuesday: A Loudoun County resident in their 40s who officials believe came in contact with someone with the coronavirus at Christ Church in Washington, D.C.

» Are schools closing?

According to Education Week, 621 K-12 schools across the country have closed or are scheduled to close. That includes three in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, will close March 16 so teachers can “prepare for the possibility of distance learning in the event of a school closure.” Pulaski County Public Schools will be closed Friday so school officials can do the same.

» Should you travel?

The Virginia Department of Health recommends against nonessential travel. If you do travel, the CDC says to monitor your health for two weeks after your trip.


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