As concerns over the spread of the coronavirus continues throughout the area, local physicians and officials are sending multiple messages to residents, advising them to take considerable preventative measures.
Dr. Alan Kaplan, chief of emergency services for Syosset Hospital and Plainview Hospital, said in an interview that the public needs to relax and remain calm. However, Kaplan, one of Northwell Health’s leaders in emergency medicine, advised schools and employers to consider keeping people at home temporarily.
“I think that’s actually what we’re trying to do,” Kaplan, who is a professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University, said. “We’re trying to mitigate the spread of it. If everyone separated and doesn’t congregate together, that can limit the spread of the virus. The more people are separated, the better chance you have at mitigating the spread.”
Many businesses in Nassau County have temporarily shut down their in-person operations to help prevent any potential spread of the coronavirus or any other infectious diseases. Several area universities, including Hofstra, are closed until further notice as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to assess what steps should be taken in the coming weeks.
Kaplan believes that the right thing to do is to stay home, but to also not give into the fear. The disease does not spread through the air, which means face masks are not necessary.
“I think everything is temporary,” Kaplan said. “Once the testing capabilities are ramped up—I think as more people get it and recover—a lot of it is how it’s being framed. If you look at it in comparison to the other viral infections like the peak season now of the flu, it’s really putting things into perspective.”
Kaplan said the coronavirus spreads by the same means as influenza, which is “through droplets and contact, so if you touch a surface with the virus, you can get it.”
The main way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading is through thorough hand washing.
“Obviously, the thing to know is that it’s a virus that can be transmitted if they don’t take proper precautions,” Kaplan said. “For the vast majority of people, it’s similar to the flu. People shouldn’t panic. As we move forward, people should limit their interactions, especially with people they know who are sick. Frequent hand washing is the most important. The best way to avoid transmission of any virus is through proper hand washing.”
If people stay home and take the proper steps to prevent the spread of the disease, Kaplan believes the coronavirus will be under control.
“You have to wash your hands for a good 15 to 20 seconds before you rinse,” Kaplan said. “People try to put a little soap on and shpritz, rinsing it off quickly, but that’s not going to cut it. You have to do proper hand washing. Hand sanitizer is good, but it’s a second option when soap isn’t available. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as good as proper hand washing.”
Northwell Health was recently approved to begin testing samples of the coronavirus at its labs on Long Island. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Northwell will test about 75 to 80 samples each day, but automated testing was not initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Northwell received approval for semi-automated testing on March 12.
Northwell CEO Michael Dowling recently appeared on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, saying the health care organization “activated our emergency management system six weeks ago when, at the federal level, people were talking about it.”
On Sunday morning, March 15, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed an executive order at a press conference closing all county schools after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county topped 90. As of Monday, March 16, all public and private schools in Nassau County will be closed for two weeks as part of the county’s latest effort to help combat the spread of coronavirus.
“I want to be clear, I understand the gravity of this action and what it means to every community in our county,” Curran said.
The Massapequa School District currently has a message posted on its website that states, “Massapequa Public Schools will be CLOSED beginning on Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27. During this time, all school buildings are closed to students. Transportation will not be provided to any programs including out-of-district placements.”
Likewise, the Plainedge Union Free School District posted the following in its website—”Please be advised that all schools will be closed from March 16 to March 27. All Schools will reopen on Monday, March 30.”
School buildings in the county will be closed for instruction, but teachers and administrators may still use the facilities to help conduct distance-based learning. School buildings will also serve to help distribute grab-and-go lunches for students who currently qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. The Nassau County Office of Emergency Management is setting up a special unit to help give out food.
The county executive also said the county and state are developing plans to aid healthcare workers with children in Nassau schools, and working on developing “a proper waiver” for the requirement that children receive at least 180 days of school instruction in a school year.
In her announcement on Sunday, the county executive stressed the importance of residents and public officials taking every step possible to help “flatten the curve,” engaging in practices like social distancing and self-isolation where possible to limit the growth of new COVID-19 cases.
Curran called for county residents to remain resilient in a thread she posted on Twitter, likening the current crisis to the region’s response to 9/11.
“It is moments of crisis like this that, like in the months after September 11th, we see what Americans—and especially New Yorkers—are made of,” Curran wrote. “We’re resilient. We step up in moments of crisis and put aside our differences to meet the moment. My message to everyone in Nassau County is this: We are in this together, and together we will get through this.”
And while health officials are telling employers and school districts to shut down temporarily, that does not mean people should get anxious, Kaplan explained.
“People should not panic,” Kaplan said. “Take care of themselves with proper hand washing and don’t run to a hospital if they have a fever or a cough. Hospitals should be reserved if you are seriously ill.”
—With additional reporting by Dave Gil de Rubio