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Local hospitals taking extra precautions amid global coronavirus concerns

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DULUTH, MN -- The Coronavirus outbreak is now declared a public health emergency in the United States.

The U.S. now has 7 confirmed cases of the deadly virus.

Over 200 people in China have died, and nearly 10,000 are infected.

While there aren't any cases in Minnesota, hospitals in the Northland say they're equipped to handle these types of situations.

2 of those confirmed cases of the coronavirus are in the Midwest - a husband and wife in Illinois.

"This second case did not travel to China making this the first person to person transmission of the novel coronavirus in the United States," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

There are no confirmed cases here in Minnesota, but hospitals in the Northland say they're prepared for any viral epidemic that could come our way.

"We've had these plans in place for some time about how to handle patient flow, how to evaluate patients if there were a huge influx, how to change airflow in certain wings of the hospital to protect other patients, and how to protect our staff," said Dr. Andrew Thompson with the St. Luke's Infectious Disease Unit in Duluth.

Dr. Thompson says they're asking patients with respiratory issues or a fever to wear a mask until they're seen by a provider.

They also have a plan for any patients with consistent symptoms, and a travel history in China.

"We would work with the Department of Health at the state, arrange testing, and probably keep that patient in some isolation until we can either rule out or confirm the presence of a new coronavirus," Thompson said.

Dr. Thompson says the coronavirus is a disease that spreads similar to the flu.

He says public health departments decide when to take action.

"If we know there are no identified cases in Minnesota, the probability of someone walking into a clinic has it is pretty low. If we know that it is widespread, then our level of concern rises. So their monitoring and reporting makes a huge difference," Thompson said.

He says the risk of the coronavirus to the general public is still quite low, and it's important to protect yourself from the most common viral disease.

"It remains to be seen how widespread this new coronavirus is. We have to take it seriously. But we know the flu is in our area. So get your flu shot. stay at home if you're sick. Don't infect other people," Thompson said.

Three of the largest US airlines - Delta, American and United - are suspending all flights between the U.S. and China starting next week due to concerns about spreading the virus.

Jenna Wells

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