The city of Boston is monitoring 34 people for symptoms of the coronavirus, including Massachusetts' only confirmed case so far, health officials said Thursday, but the risk of contracting the virus in the city remains "very low."
During a press conference, officials said 33 people who each came through one of the 11 airports in the country that accept direct flights from China are being monitored. This is in addition to the state's one confirmed case, a student from UMass Boston who had traveled to Wuhan, China.
“The guidance is that person has to get two negative tests, consecutive tests, so we’re waiting for that to happen so he can get cleared,” said Rita Nieves, interim executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.
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She said none of the 33 other people who are being monitored under CDC guidelines in Boston have shown any symptoms.
“They’re instructed to take their temperatures a number of times during the day and if they develop any symptoms like cough, fever, body aches, we’re in constant communication with them," Nieves said. "The public health nurses call them, and then we will give them instructions on how to get care if that happens, but so far nobody has required that.”
"The risk is very low to Bostonians to contract the coronavirus," added Boston Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez.
But that hasn't stopped city officials from meeting to prepare for any scenario that might come their way.
"We want to contain it, we want to make sure people are being monitored and then that we're sending out the right messaging in terms of how to keep yourself healthy, how not to spread germs," Martinez said.
The comments from Boston officials came a day after state officials said Massachusetts has had 680 people in quarantine so far, meaning they are monitored just in case they present symptoms. While 377 completed their monitoring with no symptoms, 231 are still under self-quarantine in their homes. Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is preparing to release a plan next week on steps needed to prepare for a possible outbreak of a new virus.
Nieves added that an "incident command structure" had been established to monitor the coronavirus, disseminate information and manage resources.
"I want to assure you that Boston is prepared, if we do end up with an outbreak of this condition," she said. "We have an experienced team that is well-versed in dealing with similar situations.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus, officials urge people to take many of the same steps they do to help prevent the cold. These include washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home if you feel sick.
Moreover, anyone who gets sick after traveling should notify their healthcare provider about their traveling history.
Boston EMS said its personnel are prepared to treat any calls involving a patient with coronavirus-like symptoms or with a recent travel history to a coronavirus hot spot.
“If we get within six feet of somebody who’s coughing, has fever, something like that, we don a mask for us that’s fitted," Boston EMS Chief James Hooley said. "We would then also wear a face shield, the gown like you’d see in operating rooms... and put a mask on the person.”