When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced on March 5 that three people in Montgomery County had been diagnosed with the 2019 novel coronavirus, he declared a state of emergency “to ramp up coordination among all state and local agencies” and to fast-track that coordination with state and local health departments and emergency management teams.

But he added advice for the general public that has been echoed by government leaders and health experts in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that was identified in China in December 2019 and has since spread to countries around the world, including the United States.

“While today’s news may seem overwhelming, this is not a reason to panic,” said Gov. Hogan. “Marylanders should go to work or go to school tomorrow just as they normally would. At the same time, I want to continue to remind everyone to prepare themselves and continue to stay informed.”

The governor said he was confident in the state’s ability to respond effectively to those cases of coronavirus and to any future cases. He announced those initial cases involved a husband and wife in their seventies and a woman in her fifties who had traveled overseas and are reportedly in good condition. 

As media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak has intensified, that advice to stay calm has been a constant.

And to stay informed about the coronavirus, government agencies and community health providers are offering the public information about prevention, symptoms and what to do if people are sick with COVID-19 or suspect they may have been infected with the virus.

Advice for prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has a special website offering information about the coronavirus, including everyday preventive actions that include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Symptoms

An informational website on the coronavirus by Holy Cross Health – which in the Archdiocese of Washington includes Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, the Holy Cross Health Network and the Holy Cross Health Foundation – notes that symptoms of the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus may vary, but commonly reported symptoms, which may appear from two to 14 days after exposure, include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pneumonia

The Holy Cross Health website underscores the importance of people getting a flu shot, noting, “While it’s reasonable to be concerned about the coronavirus, the flu remains a far greater threat. To put it into perspective, more than 180,000 Americans have been hospitalized with the flu and more than 10,000 have died already this season. Be vigilant about protecting yourself and your family from the flu, including getting the flu shot and washing your hands, and you’ll be better prepared for a potential outbreak of coronavirus.”

That website notes that people who have those symptoms and think they may have been exposed to the virus, should “stay home and call your primary care physician to begin your care plan.”

The Washington Post reported that as of March 9, at least 21 people had died of coronavirus in the United States, and more than 500 people had been confirmed as being infected with the virus, which has now been identified in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. Nine cases had been identified in the Washington, D.C., region, including Maryland, Virginia and the nation's capital. Worldwide, more than 3,700 people have died from the coronavirus, and an estimated 109,000 people have been infected with it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website also offers advice on what to do if people are sick with the 2019 coronavirus disease, with bullet points that include:

  • Stay home except to get medical care
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
  • Wear a facemask
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean your hands often
  • Clean all “high touch” surfaces every day
  • Monitor your symptoms

Preparing your household 

And the CDC also has a website offering interim guidance on how people can get their household ready for coronavirus disease 2019 before an outbreak occurs, which includes the following bullet points:

  • Create a household plan of action
  • Practice good personal health habits and plan for home-based action
  • Be prepared if your child’s school or childcare facility is temporarily dismissed
  • Plan for potential changes at your workplace

That website includes further details for each of those recommendations, along with advice on what people should do if there is an outbreak in their community, and what to do when the outbreak has ended.

The Maryland Department of Health also has a special coronavirus website which notes that while there has been some community spread of the virus, “most confirmed cases have been from people who have traveled internationally to countries with a lot of cases of COVID-19.”

That website adds, “The vast majority of people recover from this infection. Most people will have mild or moderate symptoms. Some people may be advised to recover at home and isolate themselves from others. These individuals should call their physicians or health care practitioners if their symptoms get worse. Some COVID-19 infections can lead to serious illness, and in some cases death. If someone develops a more serious illness from COVID-19, they may be admitted to the hospital. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions have a greater risk for serious illness. Examples of pre-existing conditions are: cancer, diabetes, heart disease or other conditions impacting the ability of the body’s immune system to fight germs.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications should:

  • Stay at home as much as possible.
  • Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.

The Maryland Department of Health’s coronavirus website also repeats another key fact that has been emphasized by government leaders and health experts; “At this time, however, the risk to most Americans remains low.”