While Pennsylvania has not had any confirmed cases of coronavirus, a confirmed case in New York City has raised concerns about the possibility of its spread to the Poconos.

While Pennsylvania has not had any confirmed cases of coronavirus, a confirmed case in New York City has raised concerns about the possibility of its spread to the Poconos.


Confirmed case in New York


Weeks after the initial spread of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, New York City has confirmed at least one person has tested positive.


New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo made a television appearance on CNN Monday to calm fears and provide details on the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the Big Apple. While Cuomo said he expects other cases within the state, implementing protocols to “limit the spread” is of utmost importance.


“New York is the gateway to the world so that's not shocking and we've been preparing for it and we've been truly diligent on this issue." Cuomo said.


In the interview with Gayle King, Cuomo explained that the patient had returned from a trip to Iran with her husband. As a health care worker, she recognized that she may have come in contact with the virus and took to precautions to not take public transportation and self-isolated within her Manhattan apartment.


Cuomo noted that while the state will be scaling up testing efforts during the “containment phase,” it was important to calm anxiety and not to overreact.


We want to have a healthy diligence about this issue, but we don't want an unnecessary anxiety and we don't want people overreacting.


“We have to be serious, but the fear, in my opinion, is outpacing reason at this point.“


According to the 2009 U.S. Census, one of every four workers living in Monroe commute out of state. Martz Trailways brings about 1,500 passengers a day to New York from the Poconos.


The Poconos also remains a No. 1 tourist destination for New Yorkers. Millions of tourists come to the Poconos each year, according to a 2019 report released by The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. More than 50% of tourists that do come to the area are from New York, according to PMVB’s 2019 campaign analysis.


When asked about the possibility of the virus’ spread to the Poconos based on it’s close proximity to Manhattan, Dr. Susheer Gandotra, infectious diseases specialist at Lehigh Valley Physician Group in East Stroudsburg, says it's feasible.


"We are less than two hours away from four major airports and have a significant New York commuter population," he said. “The situation is evolving daily. I would suggest avoid crowded places, especially if you are sick, and unnecessary travel. Eat healthy, drink enough fluids and exercise moderately to keep your immunity at optimum levels.”


What is the coronavirus?


“Coronaviruses are a broad group of viruses that cause infection in animals and humans. There are seven strains of human coronaviruses. Some of them cause 15-30% of all winter common colds. Sometimes the coronavirus evolves and causes more serious illness as happened with SARS-Co V (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in China in 2003 and MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in Saudi Arabia in 2012,” Gandotra said.


The current illness is caused by a strain called 2019 novel coronavirus, according to Gandotra.


“It’s called novel as it is new, and we do not understand it fully yet. Corona comes from the word ‘crown’ due to its appearance under the microscope,” he said.


As of Tuesday, there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Pennsylvania, but experts say it’s detection in the state was inevitable. Pennsylvania announced that the state would now begin testing for the virus in a lab in Exton, which is southeast of Philadelphia, rather than sending tests to a lab in Atlanta.


The symptoms


If someone has traveled abroad in the last month, watch out for respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and fever, Gandotra said.


“If experiencing these symptoms, please seek help from your medical care provider. If you need to go to the doctor’s office or emergency room, please call ahead so that they can be prepared to take precautions,” he said.


Gandotra said Lehigh-Valley Hospital-Pocono has a plan in place if someone has symptoms of the virus.


“We have been monitoring coronavirus, or COVID-19, closely. We have signage at the Emergency Room and offices. The staff at the desk is actively asking patients about symptoms and any travel history,” he said. “Any suspected patient is to be promptly placed in an isolation room and further work up is initiated in coordination with Department of Health authorities. The Emergency Department staff has completed multiple mock drills to prepare them for coronavirus.”


Geisinger infectious diseases specialist Dr. Stanley Martin of Danville said the hospital has similar plans in place should a patient arrive showing symptoms.


“Geisinger is screening all patients who seek care in our hospitals and clinics and following CDC guidelines for referring cases for confirmatory testing.”


If you have more questions about the CDC guidelines and testing criteria, go to cdc.gov/coronavirus


Be prepared


Although Martin says the risk on getting the coronavirus is “low,” (older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are at the highest risk of complications from infection compared to healthy people), he suggests precautionary measures, similar to those recommended for the flu, should be followed.


“Frequent hand washing is highly recommended, especially after coughing or visiting public areas. Alcohol-based sanitizing wipes and sanitizers are also good options for hand hygiene as long as they have at least 60% alcohol,” he said. “Making sure you cover your mouth when coughing is an important way to stop the spread of viruses like COVID-19 and others that are spread through respiratory droplets. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects with disinfectant household wipes or sprays and get your flu shot.”


Spend at least 20 seconds thoroughly scrubbing your hands together with soap and water, the CDC says. Teach your children to wash their hands following the same 20-second rule by humming the “Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice as a timer. Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before and after eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.


If the coronavirus spreads, the Department of Homeland Security recommends you stock up on medicine and supplies for you and your family.


Essentials included pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, medicine for digestive issues and fluids that contain electrolytes such as Pedialyte.


Those who take prescription medicines should make sure they have a two-week supply. The DHS also suggests having updated versions of your health records available. Also, stock up on at least two weeks worth nonperishable food and bottled water.


The World Health Organization says it’s best to stay three feet from a sick person, while the CDC has said that standing within six feet could carry risk.


Don’t go rushing to buy that face mask just yet.


CDC does not recommend that people who are well wearing a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.


“There is no evidence that suggests masks are effective in preventing contraction of COVID-19, but they can be helpful in preventing people who are sick from spreading the virus to others in close quarters like the hospital,” Martin said.


And only wear them if necessary.


“The N95 masks provide airborne protection, and are needed by the healthcare professionals in hospitals,” Gandotra said. “It is likely unnecessary to wear them for walking on the street or going to a grocery store. That stated, the N95 mask is difficult to keep on the face beyond 10-15 minutes.”


Most importantly, if you are feeling sick or showing signs of an illness, it is recommended to act with an abundance of caution and stay home from work or school, Martin says.


Debunking myths


While COVID-19's epicenter is in Wuhan, China, the virus can affect anyone regardless of age, race or ethnicity.


Local businesses in Chinatown and Queens in New York reported a large drop in business, but the fear that Chinese-Americans are more likely to carry the virus is unfounded.


"Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem," according to the CDC website.


While vitamins and other supplements such as zinc and vitamin C may boost your immune system, Gandotra said they have not been proven to ward off the coronavirus.


However, it wouldn’t hurt to stock up on household disinfectants such as Lysol and Clorox products.


“They are supposed to be effective against corona viruses so they are likely effective (in killing the coronavirus),” Gandotra said.


As far as travel is concerned, visit the CDC website for up-to-date travel restrictions, Martin says.


“Avoid unnecessary international travel, especially to the countries where the coronavirus is known to have spread, such as China, Japan and Italy. Monitor domestic U.S. situations by following the CDC website, and limit the use of public transportation when possible,” Gandotra suggests.


Record Managing Editor Ashley Catherine Fontones contributed to this story.