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Harford governments, hospitals prepared for coronavirus, urging citizens to follow CDC guidelines

Harford County government and area hospitals have been preparing for potential coronavirus cases against the backdrop of three cases being confirmed in the state, county officials said.

Government officials have been keeping an eye on the virus for weeks, Harford County spokeswoman Cindy Mumby said.

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With the Harford County Health Department taking the lead, Mumby said that county agencies have been in contact with each other and monitoring the situation.

The county, she said, has plans for each constituent agency on how to continue operating during an emergency — either caused by the virus or any number of other emergencies that may impeded county services. Mumby said Harford is planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

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“The virus is new on the horizon,” she said, but, “the practice of being prepared for emergencies is something that we do every day.”

The Health Department has established a joint information center with all public information officers in the county, said spokeswoman Molly Mraz.

“All community partners are working together to establish consistent messaging throughout the county,” she said. “We are all in communication daily and are collaborating closely with the community partners and the Maryland Department of Health.”

Harford’s health department has seen an uptick in calls related to coronavirus, but “nothing that is overwhelming at this point,” Mraz said. The department is tracking phone calls regarding COVID-19 and staff has been brief on how to answer these calls.

Hospitals in Bel Air and Havre de Grace had already started preparations for the coronavirus dating back to January, said Dr. Fermin Barrueto Jr., senior vice president and chief medical officer for University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

“Essentially, everything from supply chain to clinical operations were being evaluated and several weeks ago, we already started our hospital incident command center, where we get everybody organized to be able to handle this virus,” he said. “We are not expected it to be a short event.”

Signage that discusses COVID-19 has been posted to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and Harford Memorial Hospital, and the protocol and triage process continues to evolve and change, Barrueto said.

“Suffice it to say, there will be more restrictions and controlling of entry points into the hospital to help us better screen patients [and visitors],” he said.

Thus far, there has been no rush of patients to the hospitals’ emergency departments with fears of coronavirus, Barrueto said, but “as more cases turn up, you can imagine the stress level may also increase.”

“The hospital is here for everyone that needs us," he said, “but if people are sick and they have questions, calling their primary care provider, appropriately using urgent care centers and trying to keep the emergency department cleared to be able to service patients who really need emergency services is a tremendous help.”

“If we overwhelmed with low-acuity patients, it will really make it more difficult for us to care for those that are sick,” he said.

To prevent against the virus, Mumby said the county is recommending people follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prophylactic guidelines.

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“We are following the lead of medical authorities. We are directing people to follow the guidelines of the CDC,” Mumby said. “Just reminding folks of the preventative measures: wash your hands, stay home when you are sick, cover your mouth when you sneeze.”

The CDC advises regular hand washing, avoiding sick people and staying home when you are sick to stop the virus’ transmission. Symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC’s website. Most of the cases are mild, but 20 percent are severe and require hospitalization. There is no vaccine.

Localities, too, are working with the county to keep citizens and themselves up to speed on the most recent developments. They have been sharing information with the county and passing on the CDC’s recommendations to avoid spreading the virus.

“Aberdeen is working with our county and state officials to stay informed and plugged in to all the information coming down from the CDC,” Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said in a message. “I’m sure our community will be able to handle anything that comes our way.”

Michael Krantz, Director of HR and Administration for the Town of Bel Air, said the town is posting information on the town’s social media and keeping citizens informed of doctor’s recommendations.

“We are following the advice of the Harford County Health Department,” Krantz said. “Not being a medical expert, I think it is best we follow the advice from those experts.”

Mumby said a crucial part of hampering the virus’ transmission is to keep up to date on accurate information. That also helps fight panic, she said.

“Get your information from the CDC and the Harford County Health Department,” Mumby said. “It is important for folks to get their information from these sources.”

The Harford County Public Library has created an online portal for information about coronavirus, which includes those resources as well as others, such as the World Health Organization, Harford County Public Schools, and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

Three people in Montgomery County tested positive for the respiratory virus after they were exposed to it on an international cruise ship.

Two of those people are a couple in their 70s, and the other is an unrelated woman in her 50s, Gov. Larry Hogan announced. All three showed mild symptoms, which were waning. State officials would not say where the three people traveled due to privacy concerns.

Montgomery County health officials confirmed Friday the cruise was not affiliated with Baltimore.

State officials are working to figure out who those three had contact with and if the virus could potentially spread. The malady has killed 3,000 across the globe and sickened over 100,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Aegis editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.

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