For several weeks, stories about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and flu have flooded the daily news and social media feeds. The St. Charles County Department of Public Health works continuously to stay informed on the latest developments about these diseases and others, and to monitor the health of our community to keep citizens safe.
The Department of Public Health is responsible for monitoring and preventing the spread of contagious diseases. The Communicable Disease and Epidemiology program, part of the department’s Division of Health Services, protects and promotes the health and well-being of St. Charles County residents through public health surveillance, field investigations, health assessments, emergency preparedness activities, and epidemiological studies. While the Novel Coronavirus has not appeared in the St. Louis area, program staff have increased monitoring, preparedness and planning activities and communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).
“The Novel Coronavirus is a new illness medical professionals around the world are learning more and more about every day,” explains Demetrius Cianci Chapman, Director of Public Health. “Our staff participate in frequent briefing calls with the CDC about the virus, and are updating plans, monitoring news, and reaching out to our community partners on a near-daily basis. These partners include hospitals, urgent cares, schools, and other organizations we want to stay in touch with in case they have concerns or a suspected case.”
While a new illness can heighten anxiety, self-education and understanding of the risks can keep concerns in check.
“We encourage the public to turn to reputable sources such as the CDC’s Novel Coronavirus webpage to learn about the disease,” Cianci Chapman says. “It’s also important to maintain perspective of an illness’s impact. As of Feb. 24, there were over 79,000 reported Novel Coronavirus cases worldwide, but in the U.S. alone there are anywhere from 9 to 45 million cases of the flu annually.”
What action would the Department of Public Health take if there ever is a Novel Coronavirus case, and what procedures do they go through when there is a measles or norovirus (aka “stomach flu”) case in our community? The first step is an investigation to determine the source, cause and spread of the illness, including the number of those who may be impacted. The department then works with local, state and/or federal partners on next steps depending on the type, scope and reach of the illness. Reports also are sent to the DHSS and CDC.
"It’s extremely important for anyone who is ever involved with an investigation to be as open and honest as possible, so we can get them the help they need and protect the public,” Cianci Chapman says.
Partnership, communication and education are vital to fighting communicable diseases successfully. “Our ultimate goal is to keep the community healthy, and we’re here to do everything we can to make that happen,” adds Cianci Chapman. “For example, if there is a flu outbreak in a school or business and administrators want to send a letter to parents or employees, we would default to their communication policies but ask to be included in the review process to help make sure the most accurate and up-to-date information is communicated.”
No matter the illness, the Department of Public Health stresses that citizens play the most significant role in keeping themselves and the community healthy by practicing good personal hygiene:
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow while sneezing or coughing.
- Refrain from touching your face.
“These steps are so basic, but we reiterate them frequently every year because they go a long way,” Cianci Chapman says. “Also, it’s not too late to get your flu shot!”
Visit the Department of Public Health’s website for information on the Division of Health Services and its Communicable Disease and Epidemiology program.