The advice from Texas A&M health experts to Brazos Valley residents continues to be “don’t panic” regarding the novel coronavirus strain.

One scholar praised the local and national response to the situation and urged area residents to continue best health practices, monitor news outlets and remain calm.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed 14,000 Saturday evening, with all but 167 in China. The death toll in China, mostly in the central Hubei province, was at 304 as of Saturday night.

Eight cases have been confirmed in the United States as of Saturday night. The closest geographic cases to Bryan-College Station to be confirmed are in Phoenix and Chicago, as of Saturday evening. On Thursday, health officials reported the first U.S. person-to-person spread in Chicago between a married couple

The rapid spread of the virus over the past two months led to the Thursday decision by the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.

The virus is a member of the coronavirus family and, say researchers, is similar to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. The virus can cause fever, pneumonia, coughing and wheezing.

The new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China, which is in Hubei province.

A Texas A&M student and a Baylor student were tested for the coronavirus last month, but those results came back negative.

Dr. Julian Leibowitz, A&M Health Science Center professor of microbial pathogenesis and immunology, said Friday that face masks are “not terribly needed or useful” when outdoors.

“Right now in this community, there is more danger from flu than there is from this new virus,” Leibowitz said. “People need to have some perspective, and the same things they tell people in flu outbreaks in a bad flu year hold true — wash your hands, don’t go to work or school if you’re sick and cough into your elbow.”

“I think China has been responding reasonably appropriately,” Leibowitz said of officials’ responses to the outbreak.

Gerald Parker, associate dean at A&M’s Global One Health and director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program within the Bush School, said Friday that “there’s no doubt that there’s a crisis in China,” and noted when assessing the local risk as low that most of the cases outside of China have been related to travel.

“There has been a lot of improvement in our nation’s pandemic readiness,” said Parker, who formerly worked as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Parker said that the SARS outbreak of 2003, which was discovered in Asia in February of that year and killed 774 people globally and infected about 25 people in the U.S., was “kind of a wake-up call that outbreaks like that — that an outbreak anywhere in the world could become a threat anywhere in the world.”

Parker said that the WHO international concern declaration has now been invoked six times since 2007. Among those are the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

“Even as the WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern, the risk remains low in our community,” Parker said.

Parker said that in his analysis, the way local health officials handled the suspected case was evidence that frameworks for dealing with potential health risks “are working well.”

“Our front line providers in our community are pretty acute to the need to take note of travel-related histories and so forth,” he said. 

Parker encouraged people to use a Johns Hopkins University online dashboard that includes up-to-date statistical information about the virus’ spread. It can be found at http://bit.ly/coronavirusmap2020.

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