Local health professionals prepare for the novel Coronavirus

Officials say it is likely virus will spread to Joplin area

JASPER COUNTY, Mo. – “It’s probably inevitable that we will start seeing them, it’s just a matter of when,” says Tony Moehr with the Jasper County Health Department.

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases nationwide has topped 650, with 26 people dying from the virus.

There have not been any confirmed cases in the Joplin area, but health officials are getting ready for if and when that happens.

At Freeman Health System, health care professionals are screening anyone that thinks they may have the coronavirus.

“If there’s someone where we suspect that the person might carry that virus, ask about travel history for example and symptoms the patient has,” says Dr. Uwe Schmidt, an infectious disease specialist at Freeman Hospital. “The state right now is the one who does the testing for us. And if they get a positive test, they send it to the CDC for confermation.”

Dr. Schmidt says right now, they are screening about 10 people a week, but he expects that number to increase.

“It might increase dramatically since we have already one case in St. Louis so it’s getting more close now,” says Schmidt.

There have not been any confirmed cases in the four-state area.

But, the Joplin, Newton County and Jasper County health departments are working with area hospitals like Freeman to get a plan in place.

“The plan that most closely mimics what’s going on with this caronavirus is our pandemic flu planning,” says Moehr.

At Freeman, they are prepared to start putting confirmed cases in isolation.

At Mercy, they’re checking their supplies and making sure staff is trained on how to use protective equipment.

Moeher says in a long term sense, they would consider doing things like asking schools to close and limiting events.

“If there’s gonna be a major event coming up, does it make sense to limit the access to that. And those are just gonna have to be made on a case by case basis,” says Moehr.

Moehr says hospitals are also working on how they would care for patients that have the virus without exposing themselves.

“How are we gonna interact with the people that are suspected of being ill. What PPE would we need if we actually had to go face to face contact with those people. How do we interact with those people, and what tools do we have to do that with,” says Moehr.

Moehr says the area isn’t to that point yet, and says the best ways to keep it from happening are to cover your cough, wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick.

“If people can do that efficiently, it can help a lot as far as the spread of an illness like this,” says Moehr.

And if you think you may have the virus, he says to call your doctor before going to the hospital to get tested.

“If you aren’t that sick, then there’s probably no reason to go to your doctor, and there’s certainly no reason to show up at the emergency room with a very mild illness and take the chance of spreading it or getting some sort of illness.” says Moehr. “If you’ve been to an area where there’s known spread and you begin to get ill within like two weeks, then you might consider contacting your physician and explaining it. And they can determine whether they want you to be tested or not.”

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is also pre-screening anyone that goes to a VA hospital, including the new clinic in Joplin.

If you want to get the latest on the coronavirus, click here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html